March 6, 2009

Equipment problems can halt even the best farming operations while farmers spend precious time and money searching for a suitable mechanic. Thanks to a welding class, several farmers in Lewis County now have the skills to make many of those repairs on their own.

The welding class was offered to the farmers through a partnership between the county's office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, Maysville Community and Technical College and Foster Meade Vocational School in Vanceburg.

"If you farm at all, welding is a priceless skill to have. It will save you so much money, from welding up a tractor to welding up a piece of equipment that you might break in the field," said Philip Konopka, Lewis County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

To participate in the program, farmers had to show tobacco dependency at some point in their career. The program was funded through the Lewis County Agricultural Development Board with the farmers only paying a minimal cost to participate.

"We're trying to use the money in a way that the farmer can help himself," said Dean Howard, MCTC associate professor of welding technology who taught the class. "It's not just a one-time ‘give me money' thing. It's something that'll help them throughout their careers."

Several counties have hosted programs like this in the past. Last year, Lewis County did a similar program in conjunction with Fleming County. The response from farmers was so overwhelming that Konopka decided to have a class open only to Lewis County farmers. This class filled up quickly as well.

During the 12-night program, farmers learned basic welding safety and skills. Prior welding experience was not required. The last few nights of the program, participants were allowed to work on their own projects. At the end of the class, each farmer received a welder plus all the necessary safety equipment, which in total was valued about $1,600. They also received credit hours toward a welding certificate from MCTC.

Class participants found it a valuable experience that will save them money and time in the future.

"It's a good deal. You get a welder and equipment and learn how to use it too," said Dean Cooper, a class participant.

"You can't get these skills anywhere else without paying a lot more money," said Randy Stamm, whose son Clay took the class. "It's really worthwhile as far as I'm concerned."

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