Georgia 4-H pilots innovative ag tech program

Mar. 18—TIFTON — High school 4-Hers are bridging technology gaps in the agriculture community with Georgia's new 4-H Ag Tech Changemakers program, part of the national 4-H Tech Changemakers initiative.

Students trained as 4-H Tech Changemakers create educational opportunities for adults to learn essential work force-related technology. Georgia 4-H created the 4-H Ag Tech Changemakers program to expand the subject area coverage to include agriculture-specific skills, and students take the skills they learn to provide outreach programming to their local farming communities.

University of Georgia precision agriculture specialists developed and facilitated comprehensive training to start the program year in September 2022. The two-day experience in Tifton equipped the students with knowledge of cutting-edge agricultural methods, programs and equipment. Topic areas include drones, soil sampling, digital pest and weed identification, sprayer calibration, irrigation scheduling apps, and GPS guidance aids.

The 25 members of the first 4-H Ag Tech Changemakers cohort are led by UGA Cooperative Extension county 4-H and Agriculture and Natural Resources agents in a unique partnership between the program areas. Nine counties including Houston, Toombs, Decatur, Peach, Worth, Pulaski, Emanuel, Jackson and Ben Hill are represented.

Since September, more than 1,500 adults have been reached through 28 events. Relationships are being fostered with local agriculture-based associations and Georgia Farm Bureau offices as students take the lead to connect with the work force.

Pulaski County 4-Hers hosted a workshop for 110 farmers and farm business owners and introduced attendees to free weed and pest identification mobile apps. Jackson County 4-Hers presented a drone usage course to the Hall County Master Gardeners and provided operation tips and application ideas. Participants were rewarded with the opportunity to fly a drone on-site.

Grant funding for 4-H Tech Changemakers provides students with equipment to use in their communities. All nine counties received state-of-the-art drones, tablets, sprayer calibrators and guidance aid systems that allow students to teach with a hands-on approach.

"We are thrilled to expand our existing Tech Changemaker programming into the agriculture sector with this new program," Katie Bowker, program coordinator for Georgia 4-H Tech Changemakers, said. "Agriculture is a huge industry in Georgia, and we are eager to connect students with new ag technologies. In turn, we connect our communities with them as well."

Wes Porter, associate professor and extension specialist for precision agriculture and irrigation, led the effort to create the initial training for students and agents. Contributing UGA faculty, staff and graduate students include Jason Edenfield, Seth McAllister, Coleman Byers, Lisa Baxter, Cody Mathis, Savannah Tanner, Simerjeet Virk, Daniel Jackson, Triston Hansford and Jason Mallard.

National 4-H Council facilitates the 4-H Tech Changemakers Program. The 2022-23 grant cycle is Georgia's fourth year participating in the program.

"Feedback from these first few months of Ag Tech Changemakers programming has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are looking forward to continuing to expand this initiative in the next year," said Bowker.