South Dakota State: ‘All In’ On Precision Ag Education

Last summer, when we were in the midst of planning for our August PrecisionAg Innovation Series conference, we got an order for several attendees representing South Dakota State University.

While it’s not unusual to receive multiple registrations from the same organization, the registrations had come in without attendee names specified. When we checked in with Nicholas Uilk, ag systems technology instructor at SDSU who had placed the order, he explained that students would be coming, chosen as a reward for achievement that semester.

I was keen to catch up with Nicholas when he arrived with his students at the conference, and I found out some even more exciting news. SDSU was in the final stages of preparation in the creation of a four-year degree in precision agriculture.

So I’m writing this from a hotel room in neighboring Minnesota after spending the better part of an afternoon at the Brookings campus, where a Board of Regents vote was a last hurdle to kicking off the degree this fall.

I was impressed with what they’ve accomplished for a number of reasons. First, the commitment to the creation of the degree started at the top. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, very little gets done at an organization without top-down commitment. Precision ag initiatives have suffered in many organizations as “pet projects” or the passion of a few individuals. When things get tough or people leave, momentum is threatened and often, programs get diminished or even shuttered.

I got to sit down with university leadership, including Barry Dunn, who was Dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences when his recommendation to pursue the degree program set the wheels in motion.

In all, I was able to meet and talk with about 15 individuals with at least some level of involvement in the construction of the degree, including Van Kelley, who’s spearheading the degree program at SDSU with David Wright. I also got a chance to talk with Dr. David Clay, one of the most accomplished precision researchers in the country, who’s very enthusiastic about the developing program.

Along with the enthusiasm and energy behind the program, I think they have the right approach. They’ve gotten buy-in from all the agriculture departments, so everyone is making a contribution. I also think they have the right mindset — there’s a recognition that identifying value in the data we are collecting needs to be at the core of any precision program, and that sustainability and environmental stewardship will be key drivers of precision adoption.

There’s also industry participation in the program, including a big boost from Sioux Falls-based Raven Industries. Seven gleaming new Kubotas loaded up with the latest in-cab terminals and GPS receivers will be employed to give students a more realistic precision experience as part of their education.

We’ll feature the program in upcoming stories, but I wanted to share this great news and wish the university well as it puts down stakes on this first-ever four-year precision ag degree.

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