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Purdue's Ag Engineering building under construction
DIGITAL WORLD: Students attending Purdue’s College of Agriculture now have more chances to prepare for a digital future. The new ag engineering building, entering final phases of construction, will be designed to enhance teaching in a digital age.

Purdue gears up to prepare ag students for digital future

Students can now receive a certificate and a minor in digital agriculture.

When Ranveer Chandra from Microsoft addressed the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry, he painted a picture of where agriculture might go in the future. If he’s right, the future could be all about collecting data on almost everything in farming — including soil types, soil moisture levels and crop conditions — and then turning digital data into useful information to help you make informed decisions.

Honestly, listening to Chandra and observing recent developments, it appears digital agriculture is coming, whether you want it or not. The challenge becomes being ready.

That starts with understanding the basic language and concepts used in data collection, transmission and management. As hard as Chandra tried to use visuals to illustrate his points and make it understandable, some people told us they struggled to follow what he was saying.

Is that because they aren’t smart enough? No, we’re talking about farmers who use precision equipment, ag teachers who have taught about precision techniques and businesspeople who use precision agriculture. Their difficulty in understanding is more likely because they haven’t delved deeply into what is a complex, technical subject. And many of them didn’t grow up with electronic communications and digital technology like the kids of today.

A place to start

Recognizing that more careers in agriculture will revolve around precision agriculture and digital technology in the future, Jason Henderson, Purdue University Extension director, says Purdue is taking steps to introduce students in Purdue’s College of Agriculture to the digital world. It may not help those of us with gray hair today, but it will certainly help those who were in the Fish Fry crowd who likely did understand why Chandra was so excited about the future of digital agriculture.

Purdue’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department conducted a survey two years ago to help determine what digital skills students would need in the future for careers in agriculture. The survey results underscored the fact that both students and ag companies believe there will be a growing need for college graduates with training in various precision technologies and digital agriculture, Henderson says.

Purdue has stepped up its game accordingly. Students have opportunities to get training with unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to collect images — and will soon collect more digital images in the field. Through Purdue Extension, training workshops that lead to a UAV pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration are also available to anyone, including you and me.

In 2019, Purdue instituted an undergraduate certificate program in data application related to digital agriculture. Dennis Buckmaster, an Extension ag engineer and professor, says that program is up and running.

Just earlier this year, the College of Agriculture received final approval to offer a minor course of study in digital agriculture, Buckmaster reports. He sees it as a major step forward. Now Purdue ag students have the opportunity to earn both a certificate in digital agriculture and minor in it as a discipline. Perhaps someday it will even be offered as a major course of study.

It behooves everyone to learn as much about digital agriculture as they can. Purdue’s efforts, particularly with moving to ensure current college students are receiving state-of-the-art training, is a step in the right direction.  

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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