The Ag Pilot Apprenticeship Program initially began with a $2 million appropriation procured by Mississippi’s U. S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith as an investment in Mississippi’s agricultural economy. Ag Aviation is essential to farmers meeting their yearly demand. This federal earmark will assist the state in addressing the Ag Pilot shortage through the implementation of an Agricultural Aircraft Operations Career Pathway (AAOCP) Program at Delta State University (DSU), leading private pilots to advanced certification in Aerial Applications, and advancing the Senator’s desire for the state to become the premier agricultural aviation training ground for the nation and sustaining agriculture as Mississippi’s largest industry.
The grant is not enough to offset the costs to the student pilots and Aerial Applicator businesses who partner with DSU in the AAOCP Program. Therefore, South Delta Planning and Development District (SDPDD), fiscal agent for the Delta Workforce Development Area (DWDA), turned to its community partners for other funding avenues to help the pilots and their employers with costs.
Rural LISC, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, awarded a $100,000 grant to SDPDD with a primary goal of establishing at least one Registered Apprenticeship in the Delta. With this funding, SDPDD was able to provide supportive services to students in the AAOCP Program and began work with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES), Office of Apprenticeship to establish the Ag Pilot Apprenticeship Program. This apprenticeship program was registered with the U. S. Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship in July 2023.
Through the now registered Ag Pilot Apprenticeship Program, SDPDD partnered with the MDES Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP), a State Apprenticeship Expansion Grant subgrantee, to secure more than $350,000. SDPDD utilizes these funds to support the Ag Pilot Apprenticeship Program and serve as the program’s sponsor. The first class of Ag Pilot Apprentices started training in October 2023 and DSU already has a waiting list of interested pilots for 2024.