SDSU precision agriculture student learns how to operate technology and equipment in the cab of a combine with professor.

How South Dakota is Contributing to a More Sustainable Food System

Every year, over 2,200 bright-eyed freshmen arrive in Brookings to begin their journey at South Dakota State University (SDSU). Many choose to become a Jackrabbit for the school’s leading programs like nursing, engineering and social sciences, but one in particular is setting the bar high for universities across the country. SDSU is home to the nation’s first and only four-year precision agriculture degree and, as of this fall, has broken ground on a new facility that will be dedicated to developing new precision technologies.

SDSU students at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Raven Precision Agriculture Center.

At Hungry For Truth, we’re always excited to share how South Dakota’s farmers are improving the way they grow our food so it’s great to know SDSU and their partners are investing in ways to keep the advancements coming. Today’s precision agriculture technologies have allowed farmers to become more efficient with their resources, more accurate when monitoring and treating their fields, and better at interpreting data. SDSU’s Raven Precision Agriculture Center will build upon what’s already happening to prepare the next generation of tech-savvy young farmers to grow and raise food in safe and sustainable ways.

Rendering of SDSU's new Raven Precision Agriculture Center.

South Dakota Families Benefit

“These types of technologies are allowing our farmers to be the most efficient they can be with every acre they have,” said Dr. John Killefer, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at SDSU. “South Dakotans can be confident we are raising the safest, highest-quality food while utilizing the fewest resources possible to support a more efficient food system.”

Precision agriculture innovations also allow farmers to be more responsive to the wants and needs of those purchasing their products. For example, traceability technology could provide new opportunities to connect grocery shoppers with the farms from which their food comes, so they can know how and where it was raised.

SDSU students learn how to operate machinery equipped with precision technology.

South Dakota is special for many reasons, but being a world leader in precision agriculture and helping to improve the global food system is another reason to feel proud of the state.

“We are helping guide the conversation and paving the future path of food production for, not only our state and nation, but for the world,” explained Dr. Killefer.

Leading the Nation

“South Dakota farmers are some of the earliest adopters of technology, which made SDSU a great fit for this type of investment,” said Dr. Killefer.

The same can be said for South Dakota students as well with about 70 of them currently pursuing the precision agriculture major and another 70 working toward the minor. According to Dr. Killefer, the university has gained attention from students and organizations across the country who are interested in the program and the faculty’s unique expertise.

SDSU precision agriculture students learn through hands-on experiences in the field.

“There was no playbook to follow, so we created our own,” said Dr. Killefer. “Our faculty have been doing research in this area for a long time, so we already had the expertise and leadership here, but we needed to identify what knowledge and skills a graduate in precision agriculture should have. Then we built the curriculum out from there.”

SDSU student learns how to monitor plant health with technology.

University committees are working to lock in final design details of the Raven Precision Agriculture Center over winter, but visual construction will be evident by spring and the center should be ready to welcome classes in the fall of 2021. With 129,000 square feet of space for hands-on learning, collaboration and research, the center will be the birthplace of many game-changing innovations in the future.

Want to learn more about how precision agriculture is improving sustainability on South Dakota farms? Read how it helps Matt Bainbridge during planting and how Ram Farrell uses data and technology to conserve resources.

Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.

Photos courtesy of South Dakota State University.