Northeast Ag Faculty Bring Work Experience to Classroom

Published on: October 22, 2018

NORFOLK, NE – Chris Burbach’s hands-on involvement in production agriculture pays dividends for his students at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

“When students ask or talk in class about the value of precision agriculture, I can say with confidence that it works well because I have experience with it,” said Burbach, who farms with family members in Cedar County.

After several years in the agribusiness sector, the 2005 Wynot High School graduate became a full-time agriculture instructor at Northeast in 2013 when the college added precision agriculture to its ag degree offerings.

Chris Burbach, precision agriculture instructor at Northeast Community College, checks the progress of corn in one of the fields on the college farm. He is one of several members of the agriculture faculty at the College who bring their work experience into the classroom. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)

“Being involved in farming gives me a good connection to what I teach, and being a farmer keeps me up to date with what’s happening in the ag industry,” Burbach said.

He added that he’s not solely gaining knowledge from textbooks and the internet. Precision agriculture, Burbach said, “is a different mindset.”

It’s not necessarily farming “with the fanciest, newest technology and equipment,” Burbach said. Instead, “it’s trying to do things better and more efficiently and minimizing costs and environmental impact,” he said.

He is among several Northeast ag faculty who are engaged on the home front with various ag ventures, including livestock and crops.

Among those instructors are Robert Noonan, who has farmed near Cornlea for 38 years. He’s been involved in hybrid seed corn production since 1987. At one point, he also ran a swine operation.

“All of these lessons I have learned are things I am able to share with my students,” said the diversified ag instructor. “There is so much practical hands-on experience that I have acquired from not only knowing the science but knowing how to put that science into practice and then being able to explain to the students how to ‘do it right.’”

Noonan, who has taught five years at Northeast, said his years of experience on the farm “have benefitted my teaching tremendously. I am able to share with students about a way of life and an industry that I love dearly.”

Michael Lechner, who joined the Northeast ag faculty in fall 1996, has past family farming experiences with cattle, sheep, swine, turkeys, corn, wheat, soybeans and alfalfa. Currently, he and his wife farm 85 acres in the Norfolk/Hadar area.

“By being personally involved in agriculture, you have a better understanding of USDA farm programs, water usage, nitrate concerns, genetics, fungicides and herbicides,” Lechner said. “As a producer, it allows you, as an instructor, to understand the cost of production. By understanding the cost of production, I can relate to students.”

Burbach is in familiar territory at Northeast. It’s where he earned his associate of science in diversified agriculture in 2007.

“I always wanted to farm,” he said. “That was always my goal.”

Burbach said he also wanted to further his education past high school “to learn more about agriculture and expand my horizons, and I definitely did.”

Of his choice to attend Northeast, Burbach said that during a campus visit “I really liked what I saw. It seemed like a good environment, not really too large where you’re a number on the instructor’s spreadsheet.”

And Norfolk is only about a 75-mile drive from the Burbach family farm north of Wynot. He farms with his younger brother, Vince, a professional electrician, and their father, Richard. The brothers represent the third generation on the farm.

Burbach received his bachelor of applied science degree from Northwest Missouri State in 2009, focusing on agribusiness and agronomy.

After graduation, he was based in Hartington as a sales agronomist, followed by two years as a product specialist for an equipment dealer in Seward. And, he said, “any opportunity I was back helping on the farm.”

Burbach said he learned of the new precision agriculture instructor position at Northeast from one of his previous ag teachers there. He added that he never dreamed he’d one day be standing in those same classrooms as an instructor.

He also works part time during the summer, concentrating on the 250 acres in corn and soybeans on the Northeast College Farm.