Precision agriculture courses increase student employment opportunities
An electronics revolution has transformed traditional farming into a high-tech business. Today’s farmers work with technologies like GPS navigation, automated steering, and wireless communications. To stay ahead of these new technologies, farm businesses now can find help from South Dakota State University students who are enrolled in a precision agriculture program.
Seventy-eight students are currently enrolled in the precision agriculture minor at SDSU. The College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences provides the precision ag coursework for students in its Ag Systems Technology (B.S) program as well as the Agronomy program (B.S.). According to Van Kelley, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department Head, approximately 150 students majoring in Ag Systems Technology and 300 Agronomy majors will take some type of precision agriculture course during their time at SDSU to help them navigate the new electronics and data management technologies used in farming. These students will be some of the best-equipped graduates entering the ag job market.
Precision ag is currently offered as a minor, but could be a major as soon as fall 2017, according to Nicholas Uilk, M.Ed., Ag Systems Technology Instructor. If this occurs, the SDSU Bachelors of Science degree in precision ag will be the first in the U.S.
“We are really excited to roll out this new major,” Uilk says. “We look forward to having a better-prepared student entering the ever-changing precision ag world.”
The goal of the program is to make sure precision ag graduates have a strong background in agronomy, ag machinery, electronics and data management, according to Uilk. Employers look for students who have an understanding in all four areas. For example, they need an employee who can troubleshoot electronics on machinery, or who understands agronomy when analyzing data.
Potential employment for these students may be at an equipment dealership as a precision ag specialist, with an agronomics service provider, or as an ag mapping specialist, Uilk explains.
Keeping up with the newest technologies can be tough. “Precision agriculture is constantly changing and staying current is a challenge,” he adds. “So we try to keep students knowledgeable on current issues that they will face as they step into the precision ag world.”
SDSU students recently attended two national events to build their knowledge about new technologies. In late January, six SDSU students attended the Precision Ag Innovation Series conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The program focused on how growers and their consultants make the best use of data collected from farm machinery about their crops.
Nine SDSU students attended the National Farm Machinery Show (NFMS) in Louisville, Kentucky, held in mid-February. It is one of the largest indoor farm shows with exhibits from most major agricultural equipment and electronic companies.