EUNICE, La. – Louisiana State University at Eunice has been awarded more than $846,000 of grant funding through the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities Initiative (WORC) as announced recently. The LSU Eunice project, Sustaining Future Farms in Louisiana, centers on providing workforce training pathways for new and technologically advanced jobs in the agriculture sector.
LSUE is one of twelve regional institutions and organizations to receive grant funding through the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). In total, the grant awarded $14.5 million in investments designed to provide employment and training services to workers and job seekers.
“Our purpose at LSU Eunice is provide the tools necessary for our local community and economy to thrive and this grant is another way we can help our area,” LSU Eunice Chancellor Dr. Nancee Sorenson said. “As the need for technology in the agriculture industry only increases, this grant will help provide valuable skills to make sure our farmers can succeed in the digital economy.”
The project is aimed at serving St. Landry, Acadia and Evangeline parishes. The skills-based training has a few main, separate sectors: beginner cattleman, a master farmer program, FAA drone certification, Crop Analyst Certification and the Lean Six Sigma belt. The free program will coincide with the completion of the Introduction to Agriculture class in the newly created Associate of Science in Agriculture program at LSUE.
LSUE’s Sustaining Future Farms in Louisiana program was created in hopes of meeting several critical needs in the greater Acadiana area: to reinvigorate an aging farmer population, give access to education opportunities to rural youth interested in the agriculture industry, address unemployment stress due to recent declines in the oil and energy sector as well as bolster the economic stability of the targeted rural areas.
“This training is aimed at prospective high school students, returning military veterans and those looking to start to a new career in the agriculture industry but with a heavy focus on the technology side,” LSU Eunice Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dr. John Hamlin said. “The technology of farming has advanced so rapidly that even established operations need to train employees in these new areas.”
“Not only will these prospective agriculturalists have workforce-based credentials to get started in the industry right away, but it will also give them an opportunity to earn college credit on their way to an earned degree,” Dr. Hamlin added.
After completion of the program, participants will be ready to either enter the workforce or continue studies at LSU Eunice. LSU Eunice was recently approved to offer an Associate of Science in Agriculture and 2+2 capabilities including a pathway to a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at LSU in Baton Rouge.
The three-year grant is scheduled to begin in the Summer or Fall 2022 semesters. There will be 40 participants broken up into four separate cohorts for the hands-on, work-based learning experiential training experiences.
“In order to continue to produce a sustainable product at three to four times the rate of the generations before us, we must utilize technology that assists us in monitoring water usage, seeding rate, and harvesting data so that we can increase inputs where needed so as to not over-apply when not necessary,” said Dr. Julie Baker Richard, co-owner of Richard Farms in Kaplan, La. “A program such as this one which will train individuals in collecting data and generating it for use in the evaluation and planning process is becoming as beneficial to production agriculture as the tractor itself.”
Authorized by the Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act, WORC grants allow recipients to help their communities diversify their local economies by developing a skilled workforce and providing equitable access to marginalized communities. WORC grants are designed to be flexible to meet the specific, identified needs of businesses, workers, job seekers, and communities throughout the Delta and Appalachian regions.
Other training programs that were awarded by the WORC focus on other high-quality careers in high demand industries such as aerospace and defense manufacturing as well as renewable energy.
This grant funding is the largest received by LSU Eunice in the last four years. During that time, LSUE has secured more than $2.4 million in competitive grant funding.