SDSU wants lead role in precision agriculture

Farm Forum

MADISON – The state Board of Regents gave South Dakota State University the green light on June 30 to be first in the nation offering a bachelor’s degree in precision agriculture.

The approval comes as SDSU and SDSU Extension place an emphasis on helping farmers understand what to expect as return on investment for the technology-and data-driven services.

Students would receive courses in agronomy, agriculture machinery management, sensor technology and data sciences.

The regents allowed SDSU to offer a minor in precision agriculture starting in 2015 and 33 students enrolled in the first year.

Representatives from Wheat Growers, the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council and Raven Industries watched on June 30 as the regents gave their nod for the major.

“We certainly see a huge demand for this in the future, and it’s about time we put this in place,” said Paul Turman, the university system’s vice president for academic affairs.

SDSU’s College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and College of Engineering are collaborating on the new major. University officials estimate they will have 80 students enrolled by year four of the program in 2020.

Regent Jim Morgan of Brookings said offering the major is “an opportunity for success.”

“It’s another one of those partnerships we can use as a success story and an example,” Morgan said.

SDSU’s application to the regents explained the growing importance of people farmers can rely upon.

“The close integration of farm machinery with data acquisition and application of agronomic practices has created a new market niche for professionals that have a breath of knowledge that spans data science, machine operation, and agronomic science,” it said in one section.

“The dollars that are impacted by one decision in any of the three major areas can be the difference between financial success or financial disaster for an individual farmer. For that very reason, farmers only want to deal with a true expert,” it continued.

SDSU president Barry Dunn told the regents on June 29 during his 2018 budget presentation that he would like to add a master-level economics field specialist as part of the university’s precision agriculture initiative.

That person would work at Dakota Lakes Research Farm east of Pierre and specialize in applying precision agriculture to conservation farming.

The written request noted: “This creates an opportunity for SDSU to lead the way in helping farmers analyze the optimal precision agriculture technologies, tools and methods to achieve maximum profitability.”