The vision for the Raven Precision Agriculture Center facility started in 2015, said John Killefer, South Dakota Corn Endowed Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science with South Dakota State University. However, the official construction start date was in October.
“We’ll begin [construction] in earnest in spring and summer,” he told FeedNavigator. “During the winter and early spring we’ll be finishing the design phase of the building – we’re looking at the exact layout of laboratory and classroom spaces.”
The 129,000-square foot precision agriculture facility is set to be completed in the spring of 2021, with classes starting in the fall of that year, he said.
In addition to the new building, South Dakota State provides an undergraduate degree in the subject, he said.
“We developed that and launched it at the end of 2015, so we’re now having our third class or cohort of precision agriculture majors,” said Killefer. “In parallel with the academic piece, we were envisioning a facility that would complement our efforts on the academic side.”
Why precision agriculture?
The land-grant university focused on precision agriculture after receiving questions about new technology and its uses from members of the agricultural community, said Killefer. Industry members also were relating a problem in finding skilled employees able to address the topics.
“What was really driving us to develop a precision agriculture program was a lot of feedback we were getting from the stakeholders in the region,” he said. “They were indicating that a lot of the new technologies in precision agriculture were being developed and being utilized on their operations, but many times they didn’t know how best to use them or what would make the most sense for their operations.”
“There weren’t a lot of places to go to find folks to help make decisions related to precision technology,” he added.
Additionally, the state provides a varied environment for producers of feed grains or animals, he said. “We need to be able to customize the management decisions operation-by-operation [that was] one of the things that made it likely that a precision agriculture program would be embraced,” he added.
The upcoming building is set to bring together faculty, researchers and industry partners to address several disciplines and give students a chance to address “real-world” topics and problems, said Killefer.
Students also will have the opportunity to gain experience working with current technology.
The facility is set to include a fabrication space to build equipment and bioreactor facilities to allow for research into microbiology and fermentation, he said.
When completed, the upcoming facility will complement precision agriculture buildings focused on work with animal production that have already been completed, said Killefer.
“The facility is more on the crop side, but it’s not restricted to it,” he said. “We already built two facilities on the animal side – one with swine and second is working with cattle, and so we have two new facilities that we completed in the last two years that are set up for the animal precision agriculture for those two species.”
The university also is seeking to expand its precision agriculture efforts as they relate to commercial animal production, he said. “We’re in conversations on the dairy side, so we also have plans for precision agriculture on the animal production side as well,” he added.
“A lot of the work also focuses on precision conservation and a lot of that will span both the crop production and animal production – how best to utilize our natural resources and minimize any negative impact on the environment,” he said. “We have a number of conservation partners already working with us in these particular areas.”