College of the Sequoias Instructor Charlie Abee said a new industry-supported Agriculture Irrigation Academy at the COS school farm in Tulare is aimed at meeting the agricultural irrigation industry’s need for qualified irrigation technicians.
“We’re here in the center of irrigated agriculture, plus many irrigation companies are located in this area. They need employees who are trained to install, maintain and operate all types of irrigation systems. This program aims to do that.”
Kiel Taylor, general manager at Exeter Irrigation, said that demand for skilled individuals in agricultural irrigation is increasing. The deeper understanding of fundamental principles and technical experience this program will provide could not come at a better time, he said.
It has been tough to gain traction with students in this past year of online learning, but Abee has been able to hold hands-on training classes. By fall, he is hoping to attract enough students to fill the academy classes.
“It is really a low-risk commitment for a student. They have one semester of training here and if they choose to advance, they can be set up with work experience in the field,” Abee said. “We are doing a lot of outreach to high school students.”
Classes in irrigation management have been offered by COS since 2017, but this fall will mark the official opening of the Agriculture Irrigation Academy at COS. Classes offered will include water management, irrigation pumps, irrigation design and irrigation components. Through a partnership with Kaweah Delta Conservation District, field trips help students learn about state and federal water projects and how water distribution systems work.
Internships with program business partners will offer either 180 hours unpaid or 225 hours paid experience for 18 weeks. Central Valley farmers, irrigation contractors and manufacturers have openings for trained persons, Abee said.
He stressed that there are no prerequisites for enrolling in the academy and financial aid is available. The classes will be held two days a week at the Tulare campus starting in August. In addition to classroom instruction, the school has orchard and field crop sites where students can gain hands on practical experience with irrigation systems.