Iowa State Program Booming As Interest In Tech Grads Rises

Matt Darr has been heading a booming precision agriculture program at Iowa State University for the past four years, and it’s made tremendous progress in generating interest among young people who’ve considered agriculture for their career.

“We have seen another record year of enrollment in precision agriculture courses in general,” says Darr. “That is an indication of how some of the younger farmers and professionals see precsion agriculture fitting into their future. The program has grown steadily from the 22 students that initially enrolled in precision agriculture courses in 2008 to 26 in 2009, 68 in 2010 and 101 this year.

“The trend is not surprising when you look at what kind of careers and jobs there are in the industry,” Darr notes. “Everyone from OEMs like Case and Deere to technology manufacturers like Trimble and Ag Leader, even seed and crop protection companies like Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto need people that understand how to best apply precision ag technology. There are really good opportunities to have a nice starting salary, and there are a lot of jobs available right now in the precision agriculture world.”

Wha’s particularly interesting in precision technology research these days? Darr says on the go sensor techniques are intriguing.

“We continue to do work with nitrogen crop sensing,” he says, “and that is an industry that is still in its infancy, but the potential keeps hitting you in the face. If we can get this figured out, this has tremendous potential for better location of fertilizer. The equipment we use today is still pretty broadcast-based, and this would really allow us to move to a whole new level of precision. I think we need to stay the course with this work and get to viable solutions that works across broad acres.”

Darr has also gotten a chance to work with some of the coordinated machinery that’s in commercial production, including Deere’s MachineSync, that coordinates the activities of grain carts with combines.

“There are some unique advantages in this, in particular with productivity while harvesting corn,” says Darr. “You get a real capacity boost by being able to keep that grain flowing out of the machine, and with 12-row headers and 24-foot grain augers in constant motion that’s a real efficiency advantage. Automatic steering and clutch control really started us down the path that anything that reduces operator distraction in the cab is a good thing, and coordinated equipment is a direct extension of that.”

Another interesting development has been the growing recognition of the GLONASS satellite’s improvement of GPS consistency. “In Iowa RTK continues to be a driving factor for our producers, but even more so we have seen GLONASS shift how we think about accuracy,” says Darr. Traditional satellite based GPS could be inconsistent in some areas of Iowa where field obstacles and terrain could serve to reduce satellite visibility, but GLONASS visibility has all but eliminated the issue. “GLONASS has been a big separating factor for producers,” says Darr. “Producers who traditionally had trouble with satellite correction and visibility have seen this provlem completely go away with GLONASS compatible hardware.”

For more information on the Iowa State University precision program, email Matt Darr or visit the department web site.

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