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

Guy being interviewed
EmployeesThe Importance Of Understanding Employee Behavior
March 1, 2017
People-related issues can tear at the fabric of a company. They chip away at even the most solid foundation built on Read More
Employee Interview
Employees1 Simple Step To Hiring And Retention In Ag Retail
February 2, 2017
There are three significant trends pertaining to the ag industry workforce which merit consideration: A growing shortage of qualified workers, Read More
AgHires.com
EmployeesAgHires Launches Redesigned Job Board, Recruiting Platform
November 8, 2016
In an effort to better serve job seekers and employers in and around agriculture, AgHires has launched its new redesigned job Read More
EmployeesOABA Program Develops Future Generation Of Agribusiness Leaders
September 29, 2016
The Ohio AgriBusiness Association will select up to 25 promising leaders to participate in a leadership enhancement program early next Read More
Trending Articles
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Nutrients for Life Foundation Teacher
FertilizerNutrients For Life Foundation Celebrates 10 Years Teaching Fertilizer Education
March 23, 2017
Those in agriculture know fertilizer is a vital ingredient to grow strong, productive crops. In fact, fertilizer is responsible for Read More
AdjuvantsA New Weed-Control Era Begins: But First, One Last Obstacle
March 4, 2017
There is trepidation, there is reluctance, and there is excitement. Ag retailers feel it all about the new dicamba and Read More
LIFT Academy video screenshot
Crop InputsLIFT Agriculture Academy: A Q&A With West Central Distribution’s Dean Hendrickson
March 1, 2017
West Central Distribution recently launched its LIFT Agriculture Academy, a new, premiere training and professional development resource for West Central’s ag Read More
Farmer and aptop
Matt Hopkins10 Warning Signs Your Website Is Grossly Outdated
February 8, 2017
Your Website is often a visitor’s first impression of your ag retail business. A positive first impression can set the Read More
Latest News
AGCO Ratliff featured
EquipmentAGCO Mourns Passing of Company Founder, Industry Vision…
April 25, 2017
AGCO Corp., a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment and solutions, mourns the passing of founder and former President, Read More
Engenia soybeans
Crop InputsINNVICTIS CROP CARE Introduces VANDAL MOC Soybean Herbi…
April 25, 2017
INNVICTIS CROP CARE, LLC has announced the U.S. EPA registration for VANDAL MOC, a combination of sulfentrazone plus metolachlor. VANDAL Read More
Kochia
HerbicidesINNVICTIS CROP CARE Launches STAVE Post-Emerge Broadlea…
April 25, 2017
INNVICTIS CROP CARE, LLC has introduced STAVE as the newest addition to­ its expanding portfolio. STAVE will be a great Read More
Sonny Perdue
LegislationSonny Perdue Confirmed by Senate as Next Agriculture Se…
April 25, 2017
After months without a secretary of agriculture, the Senate voted Monday evening to confirm former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to Read More
BPIA logo
Seed/BiotechBPIA Files Comments with USDA
April 24, 2017
The Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) has filed comments with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Read More
Eric SfiligojHope for Application Equipment Sales
April 24, 2017
The old saying goes that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” If this is indeed the case, then things may Read More
Stewardship video screenshot
ManagementNew Video Raises Awareness of 2,4-D Stewardship
April 24, 2017
A new public service video developed and produced by the 2,4-D Research Task Force, in conjunction with the American Soybean Read More
ManagementAn Inside Look at Award Winning Ag Retailer Gar Tooteli…
April 20, 2017
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj discusses An Inside Look at Award Winning Ag Retailer Gar Tootelian Read More
Students Soybean Field
Industry NewsMACA Announces 2017 Young Leader Scholarship Recipients
April 19, 2017
The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) Board of Directors selected 11 college students to receive the MACA Young Leader Scholarship Read More
Growmark FS Outlet
SoftwareKnoa Software Solution Helps GROWMARK Boost System Perf…
April 19, 2017
Knoa Software, a leading provider of user experience management (UEM) software, has announced that GROWMARK, Inc., a regional agricultural cooperative Read More
Crop InputsFBN Publishes ‘Voice of the Farmer’ Agricul…
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, which the company is describing as “a special Read More
ManagementTalking Responsible Ag
April 13, 2017
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj discusses the Responsible Ag program with director Bill Qualls. Read More
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Crop InputsWhat do Roundup and Mickey Mouse Have in Common? Califo…
April 13, 2017
(SOURCE: East Valley Times) Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s Roundup and many other weed killers, is being added Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSource: ChemChina to Divest Assets to Adama Following S…
April 11, 2017
China National Chemical Corp. plans to redistribute agrochemical assets to its Adama unit after the $43 billion takeover of Syngenta Read More
Farming drone air
Eric SfiligojThe Interest in UAVs for Agriculture Grows
April 10, 2017
At times, it seems as if experts have been predicting “big things” for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for several years Read More
OpinionOpinion: Taking On The Farmers Business Network
April 8, 2017
Well, another round of venture capital funding has come to Farmers Business Network (FBN), followed up with the obligatory feature Read More
Drone
EquipmentFarming Drones: The Future Of Agriculture?
April 7, 2017
Chances are, you already know drones are amazing. After all, this is something DroneLife readers just understand. But if you’re Read More