New Precision Ag building anticipated to open in June


Emily Matejka, Reporter

Construction of the Raven Precision Agriculture Center is tentatively set to finish this June, allowing the first classes to be held there in fall 2021.

The completion of the building will allow South Dakota State University the world’s first building dedicated to one of the agriculture industry’s fastest-growing technologies.

Classrooms in the building will provide space for agricultural and biosystems engineering courses, but the facility will also house classroom space for general university classes, according to Van Kelley, department head of the agricultural and biosystems engineering department.

It is anticipated that about 2,500 students will make their way through the building each day.

“I expect we will see a lot of growth in response to this building,” Kelley said. “Once we’re able to invite prospective students and their families to come through the building, they’ll see all the various types of labs they’ll participate in, and I think it will be a very good recruiting tool for the university.”

Mark Sandager, director of development for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, said the $46 million structure will be the first building in the world dedicated to research in precision agriculture and will feature some of the newest agricultural technologies.

Some of these amenities include an auditorium-style classroom that will have the capability to house a skid loader into class for observation and teaching.

Another feature includes a full-sized chassis dynamometer that will have the capability to run machinery while observing the engine and measuring drivetrain output. There will also be a shop with the space to hold a combine, a shop with heated floors, teaching labs, research labs, Mesonet weather station technologies and full-size GPS computer mapping monitors.

But according to Kelley, the backbone of the building’s intent is the opportunity to create a collaborative space for faculty, students and the industry. Part of this will be accomplished by combining the agronomy and agricultural engineering departments.

“We wanted to bring together the agronomy faculty and the agricultural engineering faculty and get them offices literally side by side where they’re going to coffee together and seeing each other in the hall,” Kelley said. “They’ll have these new formal conversations so that we create an innovation center around precision agriculture.”

When considering the need for a faculty collaborative space, Kelley said he also worked closely with architects to create collaborative spaces for students. These spaces and features also will allow industry partners the chance to connect with students and the future of precision ag.

“If students are working or collaborating with the industry on a particular independent study, we also have some small cubicles that we can reserve so that students can have a regular place for their team to meet if they are collaborating with industry,” Kelley said. “We really focused on trying to get students connected to industry, as well as each other.”

Industry partnerships were one of the biggest driving factors for the funding and implementation of the Raven Precision Ag Building.

SDSU established the first four-year precision ag program in the country in 2016. Sandager said this has been a big incentive for agricultural companies to invest in the building and stay connected with the SDSU precision ag program.

Raven Industries Inc., a Sioux Falls-based precision agriculture company, led industry donations with $5 million, earning them a spot in the building’s title. Total industry and private donations have now reached $20 million, which has surpassed the initial goal of $18 million.

Sandager has worked closely with the later funding and construction process.

“My predecessor, Mike Barber, was the primary fundraiser for the entirety of the building,” Sandager said. “He and President Dunn built the donor wall we have today. Since his departure, I have come on board to be filling in some of the final pieces and just finishing off the final fundraising.”

Sandager also has worked to plan the grand-opening event, which is expected to happen in September in conjunction with one of the scheduled football games. The exact date will be announced at a later time. The event will consist of private tours and a luncheon for investors, public tours and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The building has been well-received among staff and students in the ag and biosystems engineering department. Nicholas Uilk, an instructor, will be teaching multiple courses in the new facility and said he is excited to work with all the new technology and staff.

“This building is the first of its kind in the nation that brings both engineers and plant scientists under the same roof,” Uilk said. “It’s really exciting because that’s where agriculture is headed.”

Uilk said the shop aspect of the building, especially the dynamometer and teaching classrooms, are a key feature of the new facility, and there are many other things for students to look forward to.

“Students should be excited for the awesome new educational experiences that we’ll offer,” he said. “The hands-on lab experiences and the interactive classrooms that will make learning more interactive, as well as the knowledge that will be housed under one roof.”

Parker Aase, a junior precision ag major, said the building will help strengthen the precision ag program.

“I’m really excited to have a new building (because) it will be a wonderful space for us to develop our skills to help give us the best four-year precision ag degree and make us prepared for the real world,” Aase said.

Garrett Hanson, a senior ag systems technology major, sees the building as a way to make SDSU stand out from other colleges with similar programs.

“It’s the one thing that’s going to set us apart from every other college,” Hanson said. “Other colleges have similar programs, but they won’t have a building of this magnitude with this many new technologies.”

Andrew Mairose, a sophomore ag systems technology major, is excited to use these technologies and is “looking forward to utilizing the chassis dynamometer so we can run equipment and simulate different loads, measuring things like power, power output and fuel consumption.”

Carson Kahler, a junior ag systems technology major, is excited for an enhanced degree, along with new technologies and opportunities presented to students and the industry.

“The new building will allow us to use new technologies to help increase our knowledge of how precision ag technologies will help farmers in the future,” he said.