The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Agricultural Systems Management program has put forth a strong effort to talk with industry leaders to see what they expect Mizzou graduates to know when those students enter the workforce.
Precision agriculture is a key part of the ASM curriculum, and the industry leaders wanted students, who could be possible future employees, to have a deeper understanding of everything precision agriculture includes. So Leon Schumacher, ASM program chair, instructor Kent Shannon and former instructor Brian Robertson, went right to work.
They took their two existing precision agriculture courses and created two more, both of which go much more in-depth into precision agriculture practices. With four courses, ASM, which is a program located within the Division of Food Systems and Bioengineeering, can now offer a Precision Agriculture Certificate. The certificate not only gives students the opportunity to add to their resume, it gives them a deeper and hands-on approach to precision agriculture. There is also a chance to network with industry leaders in several different fields.
“The idea behind a certificate at Mizzou is that you take 12 credits that are focused in a specific area,” Schumacher said. “It’s different than a minor. A minor is for a degree program. A certificate allows a student, in a degree program, to actually differentiate and show on their transcript that they have a very focused area that they have studied.”
The four courses have been offered at Mizzou for a year. The ASM program had 10 students earn the certificate in December.
“With technology, and the importance of that technology, we feel that we’re at the forefront of creating an in-depth certificate that encompasses all aspects of precision agriculture,” Shannon said. “The goal of any education is to gain an understanding and be prepared for when you enter the workforce. We feel that we are able to fully equip our students with this certificate.”
Precision Agriculture Certificate
Precision agriculture is a farming management practice where farmers collect data, study variables, develop strategies and implement plans on their farm.
The certificate offered at Mizzou consists of the following four courses:
- Precision Agriculture Science and Technology (ASM 4360)
- Machinery Management Using Precision Agriculture Technology (ASM 4365)
- Data Management and Analysis Using Precision Agriculture Technology (ASM 4366)
- Profit Strategies Using Precision Agriculture Technology (ASM 4368)
Robertson taught ASM 4360 and Lance Conway is currently teaching ASM 4368. Shannon teaches the other two courses. The two new courses developed by the program are ASM 4366 and ASM 4368.
The Precision Agriculture Science and Technology course (ASM 4360) is the opening class for students interested in learning the basics about precision agriculture. The course focuses on GPS systems and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Discussions on some of the machinery used for precision agriculture, such as drones, also takes place.
A lot of the fundamentals are taught during the ASM 4360 course. The goal is to help students have an understanding of what precision agriculture is all about.
Profit Strategies Using Precision Agriculture Technology (ASM 4368), focuses more on the business side of precision agriculture. Students put together two business plans for a farmer: one before implementing precision agriculture and one after the farmer starts using precision agriculture.
“We go in and compare the two plans,” Robertson said. “Precision agriculture is not just going out and buying the equipment. There are a lot of different things to think about.”
Students analyze collected data and manage that data in the best way possible.
“Once you’ve collected data, how do you analyze it? What does it really mean? We wanted to go more in-depth on those issues,” Robertson said. “This class ties together the financial side.”
Shannon’s course, Machinery Management Using Precision Agriculture Technology (ASM 4365), focuses solely on the ever-advancing technology used in precision agriculture. The course takes what students learn in ASM 4360 and goes more in-depth on GPS technologies associated with machinery systems.
“Machinery and hardware are the focus in this course,” Shannon said. “There is so much to learn about equipment — and there is a lot of equipment that is being used for precision agriculture.”
Data Management and Analysis Using Precision Agriculture Technology (ASM 4366) is another course dedicated to data. Shannon said this course looks at how the data is collected and then analyzed.
“We want to show how individuals can take that agronomic information and develop it,” Shannon said. “With precision agriculture, you have a lot data and you have to figure out how to utilize it. We really get into the nuts and bolts of managing data.”
ASM 4360 and ASM 4365 are both fall courses. ASM 4366 and ASM 4368 are spring courses. The program expects students to take Introduction to Soils (SOIL 2100) before beginning the certificate. Also, they would like students to complete ASM 4360 before beginning ASM 4365 and ASM 4366.
“You won’t be completely lost,” Robertson said. “But it would be highly beneficial to have your soils course completed. We talk a lot about soils, and they play a big role in precision agriculture.”
An Industry Tie-In
The ASM program developed its certificate after meeting with industry leaders, who they continue to involve in the certificate program. Members from John Deere, Case IH and New Holland have both contributed to and had input into the course content of the Precision Agriculture Certificate and presented information to ASM students.
Thad Becker graduated from MU with an ASM degree in 2001. He has worked for MFA since he graduated, serving as the GIS manager in Columbia from 2006 to 2015 and precision agronomy manager since 2015. Since 2006, he has done tech support and training for the precision agriculture department. Precision agriculture is a huge part of what MFA does.
“Precision agriculture is a cornerstone of our company,” Becker said. “Employees who have a good understanding of precision agriculture and the components that make it possible are very valuable to us. We need more people with these skills to help build our future.
“I am happy to see this certificate at MU. We have a long history of hiring employees from the university. We are excited to see the curriculum updated to keep pace with the ever-changing industry.”
Scott Brees has served as corporate sales manager with Sydenstrickers John Deere for nearly 17 years. Again, precision agriculture plays a big role in what Brees’ company does.
“Precision agriculture is intertwined with most everything we do with our large agriculture customers, from machine control and guidance all the way to data interpretation and analysis,” Brees said. “The precision-enabled equipment we sell and service ties us into the precision side of agriculture. John Deere equipment has the ability to be precision-controlled and collect, store and transmit the data today’s customers are using to improve their productivity and profitability.”
Brees added that a deeper understanding of precision agriculture would benefit to students.
“Precision farming is becoming more than just machine control and seed and nutrient placement,” Brees said. “The data being generated, collected and analyzed is opening up entirely new job roles and areas of specialization in our industry we have not previously seen. Having students graduate from your program with some understanding of these changes is important.
“This certificate is probably becoming mission critical: This is where the future of production agriculture is heading. Failure to prepare students for this side of agriculture would be a mistake.”
An Online Focus
Shannon’s two courses are both available online. The faculty are in the process of adding an online option for ASM 4360 and 4368. .
“The end goal is to offer these courses online,” Robertson said. “That still has challenges because a lot of the work is hands-on. Laboratory work is hard to do online. There are ways to handle that, though.
Currently, to complete the certificate, an individual needs to enroll and attend class at MU for at least two of the courses. The faculty would like to open the certificate to anyone who is interested, which is why getting all four courses online is important.
Shannon, who is also an extension professional, said online courses are all about expanding precision agriculture information to multiple individuals. He said that they have worked a lot with MU Extension on the program.
“We want to broaden our reach,” Shannon said. “Working with extension, we’re constantly focused on getting information to a large audience, whether it be students or farmers. We want to increase knowledge across the state.”
While there are plenty of hands-on assignments within the precision agriculture certificate, there are ways to complete those sections in an online world. Workshops could be offered a couple times throughout the semester where individuals could come in for a couple hours, or Mizzou could offer just the coursework, making it a two-hour course instead of three.
Modules are also an option.
“We were thinking that there would need to be modules that people could focus on,” Schumacher said. “It might be someone at MFA, it might be a guy from Orscheln. Or maybe it’s an alumnus. We’re going to reach out to those who have taken the first two courses and show them this opportunity.”
Shannon added that the modules will be very beneficial to a wide audience.
“We really want to set it up in a way that anyone can find a specific module or topic and work through it,” Shannon said. “A lot of the farmers or landowners who will take these online courses will already have some experience with precision agriculture. Offering specific modules online will allow them to focus on a certain area and not have to take the entire course.”
An In-Depth Program
The University of Missouri is not the only university or college to offer a precision agriculture certificate; however, its certificate is much more focused on particular aspects of the subject matter. The ASM 4366 and ASM 4368 courses offer students in-depth information that they cannot get elsewhere, Schumacher said.
“We’re going two steps deeper,” he said.
Schumacher added that he collected syllabi from several other institutions to see what they offer in terms of precision agriculture. More than 40 programs have shared their subject matter and what they have taught in their precision agriculture programs across the Midwest and Canada.
The CAFNR ASM group is also working with several other Midwest universities to update the textbook written by Dan Ess et al. for precision agriculture. Shannon has led this effort and the book, Precision Agriculture Basics, will be available through the ACCESS Digital Library of the American Society of Agronomy, Crops Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.
MU is a member of Ag Idea, an alliance between several universities where they can share ideas, teach in academic programs; and recruit, admit and graduate students.
“There is a lot of information out there,” Robertson said. “We try to teach a wide range of things. Until you actually get your hands dirty, you may not be able to transfer that knowledge as easily. That’s the main thing. We want them to have experience built into the classroom.”
For more information about the ASM program, visit ast.missouri.edu.