How SDSU Precision Agriculture Program Benefits South Dakota

In 2016, South Dakota State University (SDSU) began offering the nation’s only four-year precision agriculture program.

And South Dakotans in all walks of life are beginning to understand the wide range of opportunities the program brings to the state.

Precision agriculture uses technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), information technology, control systems, sensors, telematics, variable rate technology, drones, robotics and software to make farming more accurate and give farmers added control.

“Today we call it precision farming or precision ag,” says Nic Uilk, an ag systems technology instructor at SDSU. “In 20 years it’s probably going to just be called farming. It’s that next big step in agriculture.”

The Silicon Valley of agriculture

The precision ag concept came to market in the early 1990s, beginning with mapping fields and controlling in-field operations.

Today, the field is bursting with new inventions, products and possibilities. But Van Kelley, head of the agricultural and biosystems engineering department, said we’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to precision ag.

For example, advancements in sensor technology will allow the detection of plant performance at a nutrient level, showing microbial activity.

SDSU has positioned the program to be at the forefront of researching and teaching the newest principles and technologies.

“We’re trying to inspire the next generation of innovators and leaders in precision agriculture,” says Kelley. “Stanford University can take a whole lot of credit for all the innovation that came out of Silicon Valley. We want to do the same thing here in precision agriculture. Our students are going to be industry leaders.”

South Dakota farming experts expect the program will be the catalyst for a cluster of precision ag entrepreneurs and startups, with creativity and collaboration flowing between SDSU and private industry.

New, state-of-the-art facility needed

As SDSU becomes a world leader in precision ag, plans are in place to build a state-of-the-art facility with the infrastructure and space to accommodate large farm machinery that will be used in hand-on student training.

The proposed facility will allow SDSU to take the precision ag program to the next level. The agricultural and biosystems department and the agronomy, horticulture and plant science department together coordinate the program; they would share the building and facilities.

SDSU professors are working with a large number of land grant universities and three professional societies to create a curriculum, including textbooks and videos. A number of farm machinery manufacturers and dealers are supplying SDSU with equipment and the newest technologies.

“The building is critical for the future of agriculture,” says SDSU President Barry Dunn.

The university has already raised $13.5 million towards the goal of $55 million, which is the cost for renovation and new construction.

Many additional benefits

In addition to giving South Dakota an economic boost, the precision ag program offers state residents other benefits.

  • Students from farm backgrounds or non-farm backgrounds graduating from the program will have a wide variety of job opportunities
  • Precision ag helps farmers use fewer inputs, enhancing environmental sustainability
  • Increased adoption of precision ag will improve water use efficiency, soil quality, nutrient management, water quality and cropland/grassland health

As the precision ag program grows, it’s an exciting moment for agriculture and for South Dakota. Some day—not too far from now—we’ll look back and be able to say we saw the beginning of farming’s future.

Economic projections

The precision ag program is projected to make a powerful, positive impact on South Dakota’s economy over the next 10 years including:

  • At least an additional $615 million to $1.5 billion (2017 USD) in gross state product (SDSU)
  • Support for up to 1,263 jobs elsewhere in the economy (SDSU)
  • Bringing in an additional $15 to $35 million in state and local taxes (SDSU)
  • Students graduating with bachelor’s degrees who accept jobs in precision agriculture would be paid average salaries of $50,000 to $60,000 (Emerge, A South Dakota Corn Publication, June 2017)
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