New precision ag major offered at NDSU
Published December 2018
The use of new and emerging technology is transforming the agriculture industry, and NDSU is now offering a new program so students can stay at the front edge of the curve.
Precision agriculture is revolutionizing how producers go about their business. Technology is commonplace on today’s farms and ranches through the use of drones and sensors that collect highly-detailed information about crops and livestock. They use Global Positioning System data to pinpoint herbicide or insecticide applications.
A key component of the new major will be to teach students how to manage, analyze and use large amounts of digital data to increase production, profit and better protect the environment.
Starting spring semester, NDSU will offer a new precision agriculture major and minor to educate students to be the farmers, ranchers and ag technologists of tomorrow.
“Precision ag is the future of the farming industry; technology is changing every industry in the world including agriculture,” said Xin “Rex “Sun, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. “If the world population is going to be 9.5 billion by 2050, and as farmland keeps decreasing, we better figure out an efficient way to feed them. Since North Dakota plays a major role in agriculture across the Northern Plains, the precision ag program in NDSU not only can train students how to better manage farm business with the most advanced technology, but also will deliver solutions to farmers and industry enterprises through research and outreach activities.”
The new major is a natural fit for NDSU’s College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources. It’s considered the right time for the university to respond to this major need across the state, region and nation.
“There already is a tremendous amount of industry enterprises that want to be partners with our precision ag program,” Sun said, noting students will be required to complete two internships in the precision ag industry before they graduate from the program.
There is great interest among current and perspective students for the new program.
One of those students is Aaron Dean, a freshman from Velva, North Dakota, who calls the program the right choice for many students. He plans to change his major to precision agriculture.
“I firmly believe that this new precision agriculture program will help not only me, but all students with similar interests, get a stronger grasp on the new and improved ways of the agricultural Industry. It will give me a solid chance at a wide array of jobs upon graduating from college,” Dean said. “I live on a farm and ranch, and I see this degree not only helping me in my career but also helping our family operation keep up with all the new techniques and technologies of farming and ranching, if I choose to return to it after achieving my degree.”
The major and minor will educate students in a variety of fast-changing technologies. The program will include collaborations with private companies and the North Dakota State College of Science and Lake Region State College. One agreement is with Microsoft, which will help guide the curriculum so instructors will be at on the cutting-edge of the latest technological advances, and students will learn practical aspects of precision agriculture.
The program will have a strong experiential learning component, with field experience in such areas as sensors, mapping, data collection and cloud computing.
“For our students to remain vital to the field, they must be educated in the newest technologies, methods and practices for farming,” explained Julie Bietz, student coordinator for the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. “Our students will have hands-on labs, getting an opportunity to see first-hand the impact these new technologies will have on agriculture.”
The benefits of precision agriculture go far beyond the farm. Machinery companies, seed and fertilizer firms, agronomy businesses and agriculture insurance companies are looking for students versed in the field. Also, technology companies involved with software, sensors and robotics, unmanned aerial system companies, cloud computing and data science companies also will have job opportunities for program graduates.