Virginia council recommends MECC ‘smart farming’ funding

Stephen Igo • Dec 18, 2018 at 8:59 AM

BIG STONE GAP — The GO Virginia Region One Council has approved a funding recommendation of more than $310,000 for a smart farming proposal from Mountain Empire Community College entitled “Smart Farming at the Center for Workforce and Innovation of Appalachia.”

Located in the former Appalachia Elementary School, the CWIA will be a MECC satellite training facility to enable the college to expand many of its existing programs and to launch new programs.

The GO Virginia funding request will support MECC and its partners to establish the smart farming program with a focus on using drone technology for agricultural purposes and enable the college to expand its unmanned systems program.

Smart farming involves the use of technology to improve farming techniques, increase yields and maximize profits. The program will involve a two-step process of data collection using drone technology and data analysis using the new Agricultural Science Laboratory.

The addition of the program will also enable MECC to develop the first unmanned aerial systems associate degree program in the Virginia Community College System and the only such program in Region One.

MECC President Dr. Kristen Westover said the college is "honored and excited about the GO Virginia Region One funding opportunity to support the development and creation of new workforce training programs in smart farming and agriculture technology."

Westover said the funds "will support MECC in developing entrepreneurial offerings, purchasing equipment and developing coursework, programming and other new and innovative learning and opportunities to enhance the workforce development offerings at the Center for Workforce and Innovation of Appalachia."

"The Region One Council is pleased to recommend to the state board the innovative project put forth by (MECC), which addresses specifically one of our industry targets, food and beverage manufacturing," said Region One Council Chair Mike Quillen.

"This project will also provide insight to Region One's other targeted industries through advancement of drone technology and training. Additionally, the project brings revitalization to the town of Appalachia, repurposing a vacated educational facility to continuing use and providing certification in a rapidly growing sector."

The MECC proposal will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for further evaluation. The GO Virginia State Board will review the project during the board's March 12 session.