Changes in agriculture

The Precision Agriculture program at North Dakota State prepares students for the future

How technology is helping farmers and ranchers

As new technology is continuing to be used on farms and ranches, a fairly new major and minor on campus is preparing students for the future of agriculture.

Precision Agriculture has been offered to students starting at the end of 2018. Within the major and minor, students learn how to manage large amounts of digital data to increase production and profit on farms.

Students within the major can find jobs in agronomy businesses and agricultural insurance companies along with machinery and technology companies.

John Nowatzki, an Agricultural Machines specialist in NDSU’s Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering Department, spoke about the Precision Agriculture major on campus and how it can help farmers economically.

Nowatzki elaborated that Precision Agriculture is helping improve the profits on farms and ranches as technology can detect overlap when planting. As farmers may overlap when they are planting in the springtime, technology can ensure that no overlapping happens to produce a better harvest.

While seeding can cost farmers up to $50 an acre, making sure the planting process goes smoothly helps farmers obtain a greater production and better profit.

Some of the technologies Nowatzki mentioned that are used to help to plant include (global positioning systems) GPS guide systems that assist farmers when they have uneven and unusual shaped acres of land.

Drones are also a common technology being used by farmers to see how much yield their crops will produce. Farmers are able to identify any abnormalities which they may not be able to view from the ground.

Nowatzki predicted that half the farmers in North Dakota use drones for scouting their fields, though he stated it is still a slow adaption within agriculture.

Along with being used for crops, drones can be used on livestock as well. Dr. Xin (Rex) Sun, an assistant professor of Biosystems Engineering, explained, “Drones can be used for many applications in livestock… like livestock inventory, disease monitoring and fence checking.”

Some other geospatial technologies used on farms include satellite imagery and ground robotic systems, all of which help farmers manage variables such as fertilizer application as Sun described.

“I believe the future of farming is all about data technology.”

Dr. Xin (Rex) Sun, an assistant professor of Biosystems Engineering

Nowatzki briefly talked about how technology can help farmers when weather affects the harvesting season like this past fall. Though he said technology can’t reverse impacts on crops from bad weather, Nowatzki stated that technology will help the farmers get back on their feet when planting for the next season.

In terms of the classes and resources being offered to students within this major, Nowatzki described what students use to stay up to date on technology. Archmaps is one of the software used in the classrooms and is free for students.

As technology is continuing to develop and improve, Nowatzki mentioned that Precision Agriculture professors usually don’t want to invest too much money since technology is always changing.

Sun also expanded on this saying, “…We as instructors for university have to change our class materials simultaneously. Especially for Precision Agriculture.”

Nowatzki said they typically collaborate with dealers so they can introduce the technology and machinery to the students and then give it back to the dealerships when something new comes out.

When asked what he envisions the future of agriculture will look like with Precision Agriculture, Nowatzki explained that he thinks Precision Agriculture will be referred to as just agriculture in the future as technology continues to become the new norm on farms and ranches.

When asked the same question, Sun claimed, “I believe the future of farming is all about data technology.” Sun also explained that technology is being used on farms in other countries such as China, Israel, Australia and Canada.

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