College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

Tractor Course Delivers Real World Skills

Meredith Epstein
A student starts the tractor under supervision from instructor Shane LaBrake.
Image Credit: 
Meredith Epstein

This past weekend, AGNR students had the opportunity to literally get their hands dirty – this time with engine grease. INAG199D Tractor Operation, Maintenance, and Safety is one of the IAA’s newest and most popular courses. Students earn one credit for two full, eight-hour days of instruction at AGNR’s Central Maryland Research and Education Center – Upper Marlboro Facility.

The IAA has been fortunate to hire Shane LaBrake as an adjunct instructor for the course and to have support from the Upper Marlboro Facility staff and Terp Farm manager Guy Kilpatric. LaBrake’s wealth of knowledge, the facility’s tractors and equipment, and Terp Farm’s plot combine for the perfect setting for a top-notch student experience. 

Day one focuses on an engaging outdoor lecture full of props and stories to learn the basics of internal combustion engines, tractor controls, hydraulics, and more. Day two focuses on safety, performing routine maintenance, and actual time operating a tractor. By the end of the weekend, every student has gotten one-on-one field practice with the facilitators in driving, as well as attaching and using implements. Throughout the weekend, LaBrake impresses upon the class the importance of professionalism in agricultural careers – and how being knowledgeable and safe around tractors is an inherent part of that.

For some students, this course is their very first exposure to tractors, while others have grown up driving them. Yet, everyone has something to gain from the course and LaBrake’s expertise. Addie McCaul is an Agriculture Forward student pursuing a certificate in Sustainable Agriculture at the IAA and a degree in Environmental Horticulture. “I have a newfound appreciation for tractors because of this class.,” she said after driving one for the first time on Sunday. “It taught me a lot about how useful they can be, and how, if maintained properly, tractors and other equipment don't have to compromise the sustainability of your farm. I learned a lot of practical and valuable concepts from this class, and I had a really fun experience doing it.”

The IAA plans to continue offering this popular course every fall semester. 

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