The fast-paced evolution of the agriculture industry can be seen at South Dakota State University through its precision ag program, started in July 2016. The bachelor’s degree was the first of its kind in the United States and launched with 19 students pursuing the bachelor’s degree and nearly 90 more seeking a minor. Administrators anticipate the bachelor’s program will have nearly 100 more students in the next three years.
The major is a cooperative effort of the agronomy, horticulture and plant science, agricultural and biosystems engineering, and mathematics and statistics departments. New classes were created in all three departments to form the major.
Precision ag integrates the use of computer technology with farm equipment, farm sensors, GPS navigation, satellite imagery and drone imagery to revolutionize ag production and create new opportunities within the industry.
In addition to applying technical learning on the farms, graduates of the program are filling industry needs in ag service and manufacturing. Farm equipment dealers need precision ag specialists on staff and throughout the region to instruct farmers.
Research by the college’s faculty and students is a growing part of the program. Aaron Franzen, an assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, is working to create more sophisticated optical sensors for the study of plant growth and development. He is also working with mathematics and statistics faculty members to gain National Science Foundation funding on large-scale analysis of data from equipment already in the field.