Raven Precision Agriculture Center receives new donation

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Jordan Rusche, Copy Editor

On Dec. 17, 2019, POET, a biotechnology company based out of Sioux Falls, contributed $2 million to the construction of the Raven Precision Agriculture Center at South Dakota State University.

“This gift supports South Dakota’s future farmers, who will need to cultivate even more sustainable ag practices for future generations,” POET founder and CEO Jeff Broin said during his donation announcement.

POET is the latest sponsor to help fund the construction of the facility. Others include Raven Precision Agriculture, for which the building is named, Corteva Agriscience and the CHS Foundation.

The new structure, located just south of the Animal Science Complex, began construction during spring 2019 and will be used for research and teaching purposes, specifically for those seeking a degree in precision agriculture.

Precision agriculture teaches students how to optimize plant growth and development through the environment, as well as how to utilize the proper equipment — such as combines and GPS systems — to improve overall yield.

“The whole goal of the program is to graduate students that understand both biology and the technology,” said David Wright, head of the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science.

Van Kelley, head of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, also thinks precision agriculture will help improve how the field is studied.

“The whole objective of precision agriculture is to be able to provide the right input at the right time in the field,” Kelley said. “While we’re not quite there today, we would really like to treat each plant individually.”

SDSU is the first in the nation to offer a four-year precision agriculture major.

Wright and Kelley developed the program, and both of their respective departments offer classes for a precision agriculture degree. While Wright’s department focuses on the agronomical needs of the crop, Kelley’s helps to create the technology needed in the field.

The donation from POET also opens doors to begin working biofuel processing into the curriculum. This could include studying different methods of ethanol production.

Both departments will share the new facility, allowing them to branch out from their respective buildings. This is especially good news for the agriculture and biosystems department.

“The new building gives us a lot of space for new laboratory equipment and a lot more hands-on activity,” Kelley said.

Students, such as senior precision agriculture major Jacob Van Santen are also looking forward to this larger space for learning.

“With a lot more room and newer technology, it will allow us to expand our knowledge even more by using more technology and hands-on learning,” Van Santen said.

The Agricultural Engineering building, built in 1959, lacks the space to properly accommodate both the number of students and the types of teaching done inside, such as hydraulics. With this new facility, students will have the chance to learn more effectively.

“With precision ag changing every day, there will be more opportunities for us to use this new technology that the old building wasn’t able due to its size and age,” Van Santen said.

The new center will house 450 classroom seats, along with laboratories, places for full-sized machinery and study spaces for student use.

Wright and Kelley also hope this new facility will further the partnership between SDSU research and the farmers around the Brookings community.

“I think this building will show that SDSU believes in agriculture in South Dakota and supports agriculture in South Dakota,” Wright said.

They plan to make any information gathered through research at the new center available to the farmers of the area, benefitting them by providing access to new methods that could be used to improve agricultural practices here in South Dakota.

Both department heads feel that this new facility will pave the way for better, more efficient use of agricultural research, and Wright thinks the facility will draw in new students to SDSU.

“We’re creating an environment that will attract students from around the United States into an environment that is like no other to prepare students to meet the next challenges of agriculture,” Wright said.

The Raven Precision Agriculture Center is slated to finish construction in June 2021, with classes beginning in the building that fall.