Iowa State’s Advanced Machinery Program

The success of precision agriculture use and adoption in the future will hinge on the skills and talents of the individuals being trained at colleges and universities today. Fortunately, there are some truly outstanding programs working to prepare the next generation of professionals destined to work in the increasingly technology-rich world of agriculture.

One such program has emerged at Iowa State University (ISU). The Advanced Machinery Engineering (AME) program is only a few years old, but it has quickly grown into a major player in ag tech education. Currently there are five faculty members on board, each focused on different areas of advanced machine design, agricultural sensing and automation, and precision agriculture. There are around 20 graduate students and staff working in this area.

The staff is headed up by Matt Darr, a farm kid from eastern Ohio who came from a similar position at The Ohio State University two years ago to take the lead at ISU. During a recent interview, Darr shared some detail on the ISU program, what this generation of tech-immersed students are learning, and what graduates expect from employers once they enter the workforce.

Describe the department and its mission. What specialty areas related to precision agriculture are offered?
We train students in the hardware aspects of precision agriculture. There’s a heavy focus on tractor and combine systems, as well as hardware associated with precision agriculture. We cover how to select and implement the right precision agriculture products and accuracy levels and hydraulic systems for agriculture.

How many students are currently enrolled in the program?
We currently have 500 students in our engineering and technology programs. About half are focused on ag machinery. Of those, we graduate around 40 per year that hope to pursue a career directly in precision agriculture.

What is the balance between technical and agronomic training?
Our students are focused mainly on technical systems. Many students in our precision agriculture program do complete a minor in agronomy. This is a tremendous background and serves these students well in the future.

For the equipment dealership, the agronomy background is not a huge need. It is more beneficial to a student going to work for a co-op or consultant or seed company where they’ll need to make recommendations or implement variable-rate application technologies.

What facilities are available on campus?
Manufacturers have been very supportive of our efforts. We have an Ag Leader Precision Ag Lab which features desktop computers and software, SMS mobile lab kits, combine, sprayer, and planter simulators. Our John Deere Automation Lab has Universal and Integrated AutoTrac hardware, RTK GPS equipment, and simulation and set-up of ag displays and in-field software. The Sauer Danfoss Fluid Power Lab contains hydraulic trainers and simulators that allow for training on integration of hydraulics and electronics for vehicle control and steering. Finally, the IaRTN Lab, featuring equipment support from Topcon and Trimble, has allowed us to evaluate and promote the use of the Iowa CORS network for agriculture.

What sorts of positions are graduates preparing to take on?
Students in precision agriculture mainly enter into support and management positions. Most commonly, students become precision agriculture specialists at equipment dealerships. Other students work directly with precision agriculture manufacturers.

How are you working to recruit students into the program?
We really don’t recruit directly for precision agriculture students. In general, we get a steady stream of young students interested in technology, and precision agriculture is a perfect fit for these students. Most, but not all, do have a farm background and tend to be fairly highly ranked in their high school class. We do not train “precision agriculture technicians” but rather “precision agriculture technology managers.” This requires a higher level of math and management capacity.

What do your students expect in terms of employment opportunities when they leave your program?
Most are very good at technical items and through internships have developed good customer and communication skills. They definitely expect the opportunity to provide leadership and use their training to help their employer. Because of their training they tend to want to work with larger dealers and co-ops where the long-term potential for advancement is higher.

How do you stay connected to the market to ensure that you are teaching what employers need? Staying connected with the industry is a key part of maintaining and growing a good training program for the students. If we are five years behind, then the value of that student to industry has been diminished. I typically meet at least yearly with most of the major players in the precision agriculture industry to ensure that we’re on target with our program and are adjusting to changes in the industry. Staying in close contact also helps to generate the equipment support needed to continue to teach high quality labs.

What are the future plans for growth and expansion of the program?
There are many options, including online graduate certificates and industry trainings. In the past year, our number of focused industry training programs has increased. For some industries, it makes more sense to hire us to come to their facility for a one- or two-day workshop rather than send their employees to an outside location.

We’re also in the process of expanding our facilities to increase enrollment in our precision agriculture courses. Right now, we’re limited by seats.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Iowa State’s Advanced Machinery Program

  1. Precision agriculture and robotics are of my most favorit fields like to work on. I have read and worked on precision agriculture economical farm size in province I live, Hamean, Iran. I also work on development of image processing algorithms to recognize apples from tree canopy as my M.S. thesis. My other interest is working on VRT.
    I wondered if I could work on projects like mentioned topics as PHD project.

  2. Hello,

    I currently work as a support person for ag precision products. I have a contract work that will expire in 1 year. I heard it would be good to have a certificate in agricultural precision field to have better job prospects. Would you have any ideas for me?

Employees Stories
EmployeesAsmark Institute Dedicates New Training Center To Ford West
August 6, 2014
The Asmark Institute plans to recognize the retired industry leader's years of service to the fertilizer industry at the new state-of-the-art facility in Owensboro, KY. Read More
EmployeesSyngenta: ‘Take Charge’ Of Farm Safety
June 4, 2014
Syngenta and health officials warn of four health-related challenges in agriculture and how they can be managed. Read More
EmployeesHead Start Program Prepares The Next Generation Of Ag Retailers
April 7, 2014
Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, in partnership with the Asmark Institute, are offering the Head Start Program to prepare students for work at ag retail facilities. Read More
EmployeesThree Keys To Employee Success
March 3, 2014
Increasing employee performance becomes much easier when managers follow these three simple things. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100The Andersons Acquires South Dakota Plant Nutrient Manufacturer Kay-Flo
May 20, 2015
The Andersons, Inc., ranked No. 22 on the CropLife 100, has purchased Kay Flo Industries of North Sioux City, SD. “This Read More
CropLife 100North Central Farmers Elevator, Wheat Growers Unification Approved By Board, Still Awaits Member Approval
May 13, 2015
The Boards of Directors for North Central Farmers Elevator (NCFE) and Wheat Growers (WG) have voted to approve the Unification Read More
CropLife 100AgGateway’s Barcoding Initiative Progressing Nicely
May 8, 2015
According to legend (or Wikipedia), the first step towards modern bar codes came back in 1948, when Bernard Silver, a Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Acquires Missouri Refined Fuels Terminal
April 2, 2015
Bloomington, IL-based GROWMARK and Magellan Pipeline Co. have entered into an agreement in which GROWMARK will acquire the refined fuels Read More
Latest News
Bayer CropScience, ILeVO
Crop InputsISU: ‘Halo Effect’ From ILeVO Soybean Seed …
May 28, 2015
Farmers who were lucky enough to plant soybeans and spray pre-emergence herbicides in between rain events may now be seeing Read More
ManagementCorn Planting/Monsanto-Syngenta Update; New PrecisionAg…
May 28, 2015
Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf give updates on corn planting progress, the latest on Monsanto-Syngenta rumors and preview a brand Read More
Waterhemp in soybean stubble
HerbicidesEPA Signs Off On Monsanto’s Warrant Ultra Premix
May 27, 2015
Soybean and cotton growers looking for new tools to manage weeds will have a new, first-of-its-kind option in 2016 with Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
HerbicidesSTUDY: Weed Diversity Primarily Influenced By Geography
May 27, 2015
The potential long-term impacts of glyphosate-resistant crops on biodiversity of the agricultural landscape have been the subject of controversy. A Read More
Seed/BiotechAgrilead Forms Distribution Alliance With Kansas-Based …
May 27, 2015
Agrilead, Inc. announces the formation of a strategic alliance with KALO, Inc. of Overland Park, KS. Through the alliance, KALO Read More
EquipmentPrecision Tank Announces A&B Welding Acquisition
May 27, 2015
Precision Tank, a specialized tank and equipment manufacturer, announced today the acquisition of A&B Welding of Thompson, IA, a manufacturer Read More
Allied Cooperative Grain Plant
ManagementTraining Program Gives First Responders Skills For Grai…
May 27, 2015
When stored grain forms hard bridges, columns and other irregularities, those working to correct it find themselves at risk of Read More
Industry NewsBASF Sponsors Space Farming Research Project
May 26, 2015
Is it possible to produce large quantities of high quality vegetables on a space station, about 320 kilometers away from Read More
FertilizerTexas Ammonium Nitrate Bill Passes Senate, Heads To Gov…
May 26, 2015
The Texas State Senate gave final approval last Thursday to new regulations for ammonium nitrate, reports The Dallas Morning News Read More
Young corn plants
Industry NewsArysta Europe Details New Organizational Structure
May 26, 2015
Arysta LifeScience Europe recently announced a new organizational structure to leverage its scale and accelerate the company’s growth in this Read More
Syngenta Sign
Eric SfiligojMonsanto-Syngenta Could Hinge On A Judgment Of Solomon …
May 26, 2015
In the bible, the reputation of King Solomon’s wisdom in matters of despite comes from a tale of one child Read More
ManagementA New Sprayer Company & UAV Research In The Spotlig…
May 21, 2015
CropLife’s Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about a Dutch sprayer manufacturer entering the U.S. with a super-sized entry and Read More
HerbicidesFirst U.S. Sale Of Enlist Duo Herbicide Made By Dow Agr…
May 21, 2015
Dow AgroSciences has recorded the first U.S. sale of Enlist Duo herbicide with Colex-D Technology. This marks the first commercial Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Acquires South Dakota Plant Nutrient Manu…
May 20, 2015
The Andersons, Inc., ranked No. 22 on the CropLife 100, has purchased Kay Flo Industries of North Sioux City, SD. “This Read More
EquipmentNORAC Options Coming To TerraGator
May 19, 2015
Utilizing NORAC’s Standard Control technology, boom height control is now available for TerraGators with Airmax Precision 2 and Benson Booms. This Read More
Crop InputsHelena Introduces New Soil Health Product
May 19, 2015
Helena Chemical Co. is helping agricultural producers maximize yields and efficiency with the introduction of Liquid Chisel, a new product Read More
Stewardship4R Nutrient Management Planning Certification Now Avail…
May 19, 2015
The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) and the International Certified Crop Adviser (ICCA) program announce a new specialty certification in Read More
Environmental Defense Fund logo
Paul SchrimpfEnvironmental Defense Fund: Appreciating Partners
May 19, 2015
I WAS deep in the throes of preparation for the Commodity Classic meeting that took place this past February, trying Read More