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Potato commission aims to improve ag workforce

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Posted: Sunday, May 29, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 3:00 pm, Wed Jul 6, 2011.

MOSES LAKE - Potato growers are struggling to find workers with the right technological skills.

Even driving a tractor has changed in five years, with some models having geographic information systems technology (GIS), according to Chris Voigt, the commission's executive director, on Thursday.

To address the problem, the Washington State Potato Commission is forming a committee to help ensure a well-trained work force, Voigt said.

He first thought about 10 people would be the right amount to complete the committee.

But since he sent out an email asking for participants, the response "has been incredible," he said.

He received responses from agriculture suppliers, irrigation companies, growers, retired professors, equipment dealers and researchers from Washington and Idaho.

Now it appears there could be about 20 people involved with committees and subcommittees.

Other demand areas include workers trained in agronomy.

There are many jobs that could apply to a lot of people, but they don't think about agriculture, he said.

"That's one of the things this group will focus on," Voigt commented. "How do we get biology students at the University of Washington interested in agriculture?"

Once formed, the group plans to meet at the end of June. Three meetings follow throughout the year.

The committee plans to:

* Identify current and future job opportunities,

* Learn if trade schools, community colleges and universities are providing the appropriate education for agriculture employers and future employees,

* Form a plan to attract students to potatoes and agriculture,

* Determine how to interest high school students in agricultural careers,

* Determine what kind of education and training existing workers need.

For more information, call 509-765-8845.

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