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Young farmer to return home with precision ag degree

Jevtic/Getty images Drone flying above field
AGRICULTURE PASSION: Justin Lehman chose to go into precision agriculture to blend his passion for agronomy and technology.
Precision agriculture program at North Dakota State University set to graduate first student.

Justin Lehman wanted a college education that married his love for technology and farming. His quest took him to two universities, both with new precision agriculture degree programs.

Started in January 2018, the Precision Agriculture academic degree program at North Dakota State University will see its first graduate in May. Justin Lehman is originally from Havana, N.D., where he and his family run a diversified crop farm alongside a cow-calf Angus operation.

Lehman started his path in higher education at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, also as one of the first students in its precision agriculture program. “The teachers were fantastic, the student-to-teacher ratio was pleasing. I could just walk right into any professor’s office and chat with them about anything really.”

Lehman decided the semester before graduating with his associate degree that he wanted to continue his education at NDSU, knowing the university was starting a precision agriculture program. He took additional general classes working toward his new degree path and transferred to NDSU in fall 2019.

Choosing precision ag

“I really love agronomy, and love all aspects of agriculture as a whole, and chose precision ag specifically to tie together the love for technology and farming. I wanted to continue to build my knowledge of the different technologies available to farmers so I could be the guy that helps the farmers through complicated technology,” Lehman says. “I like to look at the technology as a full system, and to take a full systematic approach to diagnosing and how to go about adopting those technologies.”

Courtesy of Justin LehmanJustin Lehman with drone

Justin Lehman operates a diversified crop farm near Havana, N.D., with his family, farming soybeans, wheat, corn, alfalfa and oats.

Lehman shares that he enjoys being able to apply what he learns in class to his family’s operation. “I’ve adopted some technologies,” he says. “It’s fun to really see those technologies I’ve learned during my internships and during school and apply it to our operation.”

To effectively utilize these technologies, Lehman says that the economics come into play. The deciding factor in what technologies to adopt depends on the return on investment of the technologies on the farm.

Working through new programs

When Lehman started at NDSCS, he was also one of the first students to complete their precision agriculture program. “You know the precision ag program at Wahpeton was brand new, and this one was brand new when I transferred” to NDSU, he explains. “It’s been a learning curve for both teachers and students, but it has been awesome.

“I had the chance to be on an advisory group at Wahpeton, and we all collaborated and got together to talk about what was important to move that program forward. As a student, I got to voice my opinion and touch on topics that professors might not think about, and to hear from industry leaders about what should be included in curriculum.”

Paulo Flores, assistant professor at NDSU in agricultural and biosystems engineering, has been Lehman’s adviser in the NDSU program.

Looking to future

Graduating in May, Lehman has been looking at options for his future career path. “I’m looking at a precision agronomist, or precision technology specialist. With those positions, I’d have a very good understanding of general agronomy practices, along with the technology side of things,” he says.

“I really enjoy all aspects of farming,” he adds. “I think everyone should have a very broad understanding of the industry. My goal is to help farmers farm better through basic agronomic principles and technology adoption.”

Lehman hopes to continue farming alongside his brother, Austin, at their home farm in southeast North Dakota.

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