SDSU stays ahead of agriculture advances with new major, facilities
When South Dakota State University (SDSU) alumni and Jackrabbit fans visit Brookings, S.D., there’s one thing they can always count on — the sprawling campus at the land grant university seems to constantly be changing.
In the last three years alone, SDSU has not only revamped the cow-calf and swine units, but the university has also opened the doors to an updated Plant Science Research Support Facility, new greenhouses, the Local Foods Education Center and an E-trading lab, as well as introducing an innovative Precision Ag Degree.
“With the world population expected to grow to 9 or 10 billion people by 2050, agriculture will be of critical importance in feeding a growing planet,” said Dr. Don Marshall, SDSU interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. “There are many outstanding career opportunities related to food and agriculture.”
SDSU’s commitment to innovation, expansion, research and providing the latest information and technology to faculty, students and the region’s producers is one reason the College of Agriculture continues to grow. And it appears that the university, under the direction of SDSU President and former Dean of the College of Ag and Bio Barry Dunn, isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Following the state legislature’s approval to improve and update the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL), a ground-breaking ceremony was held last fall, and construction of the $65-70 million project will officially begin this spring once the snow clears.
The facility will completely renovate the existing 36,000 sq. ft. lab and add another 74,500 sq. ft. of space, including a Biosafety Level 3 lab space.
“This Biosafety Level 3 lab will allow us to handle more dangerous types of animal diseases than we had the capacity to safely handle before,” said Marshall, referring to high risk pathogens such as anthrax, rabies and foot and mouth disease. “The project will be ongoing for the next year and a half, and the current lab will still be operational as the expansion gets underway.”
This facility offers area producers the benefit of sending samples locally instead of needing to submit to labs in Minnesota, North Dakota or Iowa. In a crisis situation, this will enable the state’s lab technicians and veterinarians to respond swiftly and in the best interests of the state’s livestock producers.
Backed by several commodity groups, including the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, Ag Unity Group, and South Dakota Pork Producers Council, the laboratory will also have the benefit of qualifying for the federal government’s Food Emergency Response Network. The project is expected to be complete by the spring of 2020.
With new and emerging technologies in agriculture, SDSU is keeping at the forefront with its Precision Ag Degree. In its third year offered at the university, Marshall said there are currently 55 students majoring and another 90 minoring in this degree.
“The Precision Ag degree blends the existing Agronomy and Ag Systems Technology programs and adds several new specific precision ag courses, as well,” said Marshall. “It’s grown quickly, and we anticipate it will continue to do so. Once our new facility is in place, it should attract even more students, and with plenty of industry support and interest in graduates with this area of expertise, it’s a great opportunity for students to learn about the latest farm equipment, computer systems, softwares, data management tools and even drones.”
The Precision Ag major focuses on agronomy, agriculture machinery management and data sciences caused by the rapid evolution of high-speed sensor technology. Students pursuing this four-year degree will soon enjoy a new facility specifically designed for this program.
The project was approved by the 2018 South Dakota Legislature, and in March, governor Dennis Daugaard signed two bills — House Bill 1264 and Senate Bill 183 — authorizing and funding the building of SDSU’s Precision Ag facility, as well as renovating Berg Agriculture Hall.
“The precision ag program at SDSU is preparing students to navigate the future of our state’s number one industry. As the landscape of that industry continues to evolve, it makes sense for the state to partner with the university and private organizations to invest in this program,” said Gov. Daugaard, in a press release.
“This entire project has been a true partnership between the university, the state government and the agricultural industry in the region,” said Marshall. “We have had a number of supportive donors already who see the potential and benefit of this program. We are still fundraising and are now in the process of taking bids for construction.”
“As a leader in precision agriculture, Raven Industries recognizes this unique opportunity to partner with SDSU,” stated Dan Rykhus, president and CEO of Raven Industries, in a recent press conference. “SDSU is leading the way in the development of the next generation of precision agriculture innovators with an enriching, multidisciplinary education and a robust learning experience. Raven and SDSU have enjoyed a long and positive relationship, and this facility will lead to further collaboration with faculty, staff, and students on emerging technology in support of the growing need for precision agriculture practices and tools. Our investment in this partnership reflects our strong belief that the demand for precision ag technology and solutions is rapidly growing across the globe. We believe it is our responsibility to help solve that great challenge.”
Naturally, the Plant Science Department will work closely with Precision Ag students, and not only will they learn about emerging technologies in agriculture, they will learn to apply these technologies to better utilize the soil.
“Soil fertility is an integral part of soil health, and thus it’s an integral part of precision agriculture,” said David Wright, SDSU Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science Department head. “The whole concept of precision agriculture is to put the fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide and seed at the right place, at the right time and at the right amount. Using precision tools, we can improve soil health in a targeted fashion by treating different zones and subpoenas within a field to improve soil health and increase yields. The result is achieving more stable yield performance from a crop within the boundaries of that field. But to achieve this, we must have the ability to use the technology and interpret the data correctly; plant science comes in to make these students stronger agronomists.”
Wright praised the new and improved Plant Science Research Support Facility, which hadn’t been updated in 70 years. He also said the department has greatly enjoyed the new greenhouses and the Local Foods Education Center.
“This outdoor classroom for students focuses on small scale agriculture techniques with an emphasis on horticulture production,” said Wright. “On just 1.2 acres, our students last year grew 3,000 lbs. of healthy vegetables, which were donated to Harvest Table and local food pantries.”
In other courses at SDSU, economics and marketing students are taking full advantage of the E-trading lab, which gives them full access to today’s fast-paced markets — this is just one more example of the improvements and changes being offered to Jackrabbits on campus.
“The College of Ag and Bio currently has 2,600 students and is one of the most prominent departments on campus,” said Marshall. “I think it’s because of these incredible opportunities ahead for students in agriculture.”