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New simulator brings farm experience to urban areas

Ever driven a tractor?

Harvested soybeans?

Want to see what it’s like?

Climb into the 19-foot trailer of the NC Cooperative Extension’s new Agri-Pride Simulator, take a seat in the cab of a genuine John Deere Model 1650 combine and embark on a choose-your-own-adventure video experience as a farmer harvesting your fields. A custom-made passion project five years in the making, the simulator made its debut in Gates County last month and is available at no cost for agriculture field days, schools, fairs and other events.

The idea is to re-connect North Carolina’s increasingly urban public with farm life.

“When I was growing up, my non-farm friends came home with me and worked on the farm, so they had some idea what was going on,” Gates County Extension Agent Paul Smith said. “They were the future lawmakers. Today, politicians have few if any ties to farming, yet the rules and regulations they make affect farmers.”

The project required the efforts of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, East Coast Equipment, NC Farm Bureau, Northeast Ag Expo and NC State University. Smith spent the past five years “dreaming, planning, fundraising, negotiating, networking and tirelessly working” to bring the simulator into being, County Extension Director Helen Eure said.

“The Agri-Pride Simulator…may be the only time a kid or adult can actually be connected to harvesting, as well as learning about some of the crops grown in North Carolina,” Smith said.

In the simulator, participants step into the cab of the combine and have a seat at the controls.

“Hello, and welcome to the Agri-Pride Simulator,” a pre-recorded voice says. “You’ve entered the cab of a big machine that combines the jobs of harvesting, threshing and cleaning grain crops on the farm. Are you ready to experience what it’s like to be a farmer harvesting crops?”

Participants then choose the crop they’d like to harvest: corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, potatoes or peanuts. They then “look out the windshield of the combine” and learn about everything from cost of equipment to crop value and nutritional information as they ride along as they watch a harvest in action.

To reserve the simulator, visit the Northeast Ag Expo website or call the Perquimans County Extension Office at 252-426-5428.

– C. Kellner