Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. It required gathering invaluable input from industry experts and conducting extensive Internet research, as well as surveying the heads of precision ag programs at colleges and universities from around the world. This exhaustive effort was well worth my time as the article has now totaled more than 200,000 pageviews since it debuted on PrecisionAg.com in March.
Agricultural Geospatial Technology
Program lead: James Jordan
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 30
Agricultural Geospatial Technology students prepare to work in the emerging geospatial technology industry. Kirkwood’s program is one of only a handful of precision agriculture programs in the nation and the only program that allows specialization in dealership/equipment or agronomy careers. The two-year program includes courses in GPS, GIS, analysis, and data collection, in addition to agronomy and computers. Students also complete an internship. This degree can apply to many career areas and can be customized as needed.
Parkland's Precision Agriculture program results in diverse career opportunities for graduates. Employment opportunities are abundant in roles such as precision agriculture technicians, research scientist, crop specialists, etc., who work with soil testing companies, crop consulting firms, and fertilizer and chemical companies. Precision ag graduates earn a two-year Associate in Applied Science degree that allows them to go right to work. Also, Parkland College is the only community college is Illinois to offer this high-tech, hands-on career program. With a 20-year history of training precision agronomists, it has built a strong regional reputation, and its employer partners are eager to hire Parkland graduates.
Program lead: Kevin Butt
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 30
The Precision Ag Associate of Applied Science degree program at Ellsworth Community College (ECC), with more than 70% of the instruction being hands-on using state-of-the-art equipment, prepares graduates for employment directly after graduation. "Students also spend about 500 hours on paid on-the-job internships that helps develop their professional skills and make sure they are prepared to enter the industry," says Program Lead Kevin Butt. Students also work with ECC's Mobile Precision Ag Lab (pictured) to present precision agriculture technologies to the future students and industry professionals. Students have also participated in PAS and NACTA precision agriculture contests and earned numerous awards and recognition for their education.
Agriculture Industry and Technology
Program lead: Carmel Miller
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 70
Bismarck State College (BSC) offers two degrees infused with precision agriculture instruction. The Agriculture Industry and Technology degree integrates crop science and precision agriculture technology to prepare students for the agronomy industry. Likewise, students in the Farm and Ranch Management program, have the opportunity to learn the latest in precision agriculture technology. "Industry involvement and field activities are trademarks of BSC’s precision agriculture program," says Program Lead Carmel Miller.
Agriculture Science Technology
Program lead: Terry Brase
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 19
The Agriculture Science Technology program provides fundamental skills in geospatial, remote imagery, telemetry, automation, programming, and software, within five specialized courses. Application of these technologies is provided in production, irrigation, agronomic, and industrial ag courses. "Practical hands-on experience is provided on our 'Farm of the Future,' using crops of pistachio, garlic, tomatoes, and student project plots," says Program Lead Terry Brase. Stacked certificates allow students to take technology courses as part of any other ag-related certificate or degree programs. Courses are taught by an instructor with over 25 years of experience teaching precision ag. Support from the college and industry have provided industry quality equipment and resources. Photo: Students receive practical hands-on instruction from agriculture technology instructor Tim Ellsworth. Photo credit: West Hills College-Coalinga.
Program lead: Chris Burbach
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 23
Northeast Community College has just started its third year of its Precision Ag program. "We are the recipient of an ATE grant through the National Science Foundation to help get it off of the ground," says Program Lead Chris Burbach. "We focus on 50% on theory and 50% toward hands-on application. We use local farm data to teach real-life critical thinking and decision making." Photo: Three students (from left) at Northeast Community College and precision agriculture instructor Chris Burbach listen as Keith Byerly with Central Valley Ag discusses potential problems when planting into compacted soil. Photo credit: Northeast Community College.
Precision Agriculture / Business and Applied Technologies
Program lead: Dr. Larry Everett
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 20-25
Clark State students enjoy state-of-the-art facilities including classrooms, laboratories, a land laboratory, and a hanger for UAS operations. Classes focus on all aspects of precision agriculture including data analysis. Clark State received a National Science Foundation grant to further develop their precision programs and equipment. "Summer workshops are held each year to educate and provide high school instructors with materials and lessons they can utilize at their schools," says Program Lead Dr. Larry Everett. Production agriculture is a key focus, but increasing emphasis and interest has lead to adapting precision technologies to many horticulture applications as well. Photo: The Mobile Agriculture Laboratory at Clark State Community College / Ohio Center for Precision Agriculture offers real-time data results for students and faculty. Photo credit: Clark State Community College.
Program leads: Cara Baker, Eric Wright, and Troy Kolb
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 9
The Precision Agriculture program offers study of the basic principles of GIS and GPS and how the systems, along with the currently available and emerging technologies, are applied to the site-specific management of production agricultural resources, as a producer, advisor, or technician in the precision agricultural field. Program content includes: GPS soil sampling; remote sensing technology; computer-based applications; variable rate technology; and hands-on learning. Highland Community College (HCC) offers a 34-hour technical certificate and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Precision Agriculture. Photo: HCC students in the Precision Agriculture program receive hands-on learning including use of the Mobile Agriculture Laboratory. Photo credit: Highland Community College.
Agriculture Department / Precision Irrigated Agriculture Courses
Program leads: Preston Winn and Drew Leggett
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 11
This comprehensive program provides a production agriculture base in irrigated crops. Blue Mountain Community College (BMCC) works cooperatively with Oregon State University Extension and have their cropland and center pivots available for hands-on lab experiences on BMCC's Hermiston Campus. On the Pendleton campus, BMCC has two center pivots and a linear move that program students operate and repair. "The focus is hands-on experience with irrigation equipment," says Program Lead Preston Winn.
Program lead: Preston Sundeen
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 39
The Precision Agriculture program at Lake Region State College (LRSC) is the only agriculture program offered at the college and completing students receive an Associate of Applied Science degree. The all-inclusive ag program focuses on today's technology to provide students awareness and experience preparing them for the demanding agriculture field. LRSC provides this in a hands-on, "field experience" type atmosphere using the college's own precision ag equipment, 40 acres of farmland, and industry access to equipment and people. "Our program provides instruction on soil and fertility, weed sciences, prescription writing and data management software, professionalism and soft skills, management and sales experience," says Program Lead Preston Sundeen. Photo: Students pose next to the Precision Planting sign at LRSC. Photo credit: LRSC / Preston Sundeen.
Program lead: Brad Ramsdale
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 20
Precision farming is integrated throughout the Agronomy degree option at Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA). "Our precision farming education is designed for the future farmer and future agronomist that will be working for the industry that supports farming," says Program Lead Brad Ramsdale. Some examples of precision farming technology at NCTA and learning experiences include: Ag Leader brand monitors and controllers (combine yield monitor, planter seed sensor, variable-rate seed controls on planter, variable-rate fertilizer controls on planter); SMS advanced precision farming software on college computers (students will use the software to analyze and create precision farming maps); and grid soil sampling and EC soil sensor maps, GPS center-pivot system, soil moisture sensors, and telemetry. "Technology is directly used on NCTA’s farm and experienced by students on the farm," Ramsdale adds. Photo: Agronomy professor Brad Ramsdale discusses seeding rate and grain drill calibrations with NCTA students at the college farm. Photo credit: Craig Chandler / University Communication.
Program lead: Steele Robbins IV
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 17
Recent developments in entomology, plant pathology, and weed science, in conjunction with advanced technologies such as remote sensing, GPS, GIS, and variable rate technology, have the potential to greatly enhance agricultural profitability. In addition, the implementation of this technology can greatly improve environmental quality by reducing the volume of agricultural chemicals applied. The emergence of this technology and the increased demand for technically trained workers to support the technology makes it imperative that Mississippi Delta Community College offer options through their Agricultural program to address this situation. Upon completion of this two-year Associate Degree program, successful candidates will take with them not only a working knowledge and understanding of these emerging technologies in the agricultural arena, but will have received practical, hands-on experience in an in-situ environment involving all of the above disciplines.
Precision Agriculture Equipment Technology
Program lead: Darin Kohlmeyer
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 15
The Precision Agriculture Equipment Technology program is based on three areas of focus that a student can concentrate on: Equipment Service Technician, Precision Ag Technician, and Precision Ag Specialist. Each one of these are focused on different curriculum. "The Equipment Service Technician is somebody that will be working on the equipment at a dealership," says Program Lead Darin Kohlmeyer. "He is more of the 'Mechanic'. The Precision Ag Technician is somebody who is going to be working at a dealership and installing and troubleshooting the precision ag equipment. The Precision Ag Specialist is somebody that will be working with farmers and analyzing the data from fertility maps, yield maps, imagery, etc. to make recommendations."
Precision Agriculture Technology
Program leads: Devon Russell and Seth Weeman
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 32
Students graduating from Mitchell Technical Institute’s Precision Agriculture Technology program will be able to install, operate, and troubleshoot equipment and machinery while understanding the agronomic impact in the field. Students collect, analyze, and manage data from multiple sources, including UAVs. From the collected data, students use GIS software to create variable rate maps for seeding, spraying, and fertilizer applications. "MTI also utilizes land labs which allow students to perform planting and harvesting activities to bring the program full circle," says Program Lead Devon Russell. "Ultimately, students are taught to convey complex information to assist growers in profitable and sustainable farming." Photo: MTI students gain hands-on experience working with agricultural equipment. Photo credit: Mitchell Technical Institute.
Agriculture / Precision Technology
Program lead: Justin Hagedorn
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 45
The Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) Agriculture/Precision Technology program is taught at the No. 1 two-year college in the nation. Students get hands-on experience with GPS and remote sensing for data collection, GIS for data processing and analysis, variable rate, and more. Students have the opportunity to master the latest technical, operational, and software applications for John Deere, Case IH, Raven, Trimble, and Ag Chem precision systems through real-time and state-of-the-art simulation. Students also gather and use data from the college’s demonstration farm and area co-op farms, as well as complete two internships with businesses, producers, or home farm operations. Photo credit: LATI.
Agricultural Business Management
Program leads: Bradley Kinsinger and Brian Zuck
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 60+
The Agricultural Business Management program allows students to learn about all aspects of agriculture, including agronomy/crop production, precision agriculture, farm management, business, and animal production. On Hawkeye's 400-acre Farm Lab, students will learn farm management, animal production, and crop production skills. They will also use the latest farm equipment and technology, including GPS, GIS, and unmanned aerial vehicles in crop production and land management.
Students in the Agricultural Management program at Olds College — the only school on this list outside the U.S. — will develop a foundation of business skills, including communication, accounting, and marketing strategies informed by surveying global and local policy facing the agricultural industry. They will be exposed to the advancement of agricultural technology, from accounting software to farm machinery. Students will also have access to the Olds College Smart Farm, a new initiative that creates a cutting edge learning environment for students and lifelong learners by providing a hands-on venue for the industry to develop, integrate, and test new agriculture technology and practices. Photo: Olds College launches its new Smart Farm in June 2018.
Program lead: Rich Teeter
No. of students enrolled in 2018/2019: 12
The Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) Precision Agronomy/Fertilizer program prepares students for a number of career options. LLCC graduates have accepted jobs and been successful as: custom applicators, crop scouts, salesmen, farmer workers, and more. They also have the option of transferring on to a four-year university and earning a BS degree in agriculture. "The demand for these graduates is at an all-time high," says Agronomy Professor Bill Harmon. Photo: A student receives hands-on training from a Precision Agronomy instructor at LLLC. Photo credit: Lincoln Land Community College.
Precision Agronomy Management
Precise control, measurement, and application strategies through the use of technology is extremely important to be successful within the agriculture industry. Chippewa Valley Technical College’s program gives students real-life practice utilizing the latest technology used in agronomy. This program provides a high level of training in agronomy, precision farming, data management, and agribusiness, as well as hands-on experience in a variety of different agriculture aspects, including plant science, agriculture equipment, precision farming tools, fertilizers, and chemicals.
Precision Agriculture Equipment Technician
This program prepares individuals to maintain and repair specialized farm, ranch, and agribusiness power equipment and vehicles. It includes instruction in the principles of diesel, combustion, electrical/electronics, computers and networking, hydraulic, and mechanical systems and their application to the maintenance of terrestrial and airborne crop-spraying equipment; unmanned aerial and terrestrial systems; tractors and hauling equipment; planting and harvesting equipment; cutting equipment; power sources and systems for silos; irrigation and pumping equipment; dairy, feeding, and shearing operations; and data and imagery processing systems.
Shortly after I began this daunting task I came to the realization that it had to be parsed into bite-sized chunks to make it work. First and foremost, I needed to separate the community and technical colleges from the four-year schools (which appear on the first list), and publish them at a later date. While it was the logical thing to do, I regret that decision to some degree. As one reader pointed out to me, these smaller community colleges and tech schools have developed precision ag programs that were “successfully thriving before many of the major universities got on board.” In hindsight, I probably should have showcased the two-year schools in my first effort as they have certainly laid the groundwork for preparing so many individuals for careers in precision agriculture and ag technology.
Fortunately, it’s now their time to shine. Featured in the slideshow above are 20 of the top community colleges and technical schools for precision agriculture and related fields. Unlike my original list, which included schools from around the globe, this photo gallery only highlights two-year colleges in the U.S. — with one exception, eh. Once again, I surveyed program heads to provide a self-assessment and peer review, including listing the schools they think have the best reputation in education, hands-on training, and graduate job placement for precision agriculture. Three schools that made the cut are in Iowa, including No. 1 Kirkwood Community College which received the most votes among its peers. View the slideshow above to see the full list, and if you think we missed one, please let us know about it in the comments section below.