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Published March 18, 2013, 12:09 PM

Looking to the future

Dakota Precision Ag Center trains for careers in high-tech ag industry.

By: Lisa Gibson, Agweek

The Dakota Precision Ag Center at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake is focused on bringing new technologies to farms. But to do that, it must also educate and train the future operators and handlers of that technology.

“That’s the hallmark of what we do,” says Paul Gunderson, the center’s director.

This fall, the ag center will introduce a new class, Precision Ag Technician Training. Gunderson says the course has piqued interest from students across the Northern High Plains and into Wisconsin and Iowa.

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest,” he says. “We hope it’s going to be a successful, good program.”

The center also offers a specialized training course for workers impacted by foreign trade. Gunderson cites the relocation of Bobcat production facilities to South Korea, and Fargo’s wind turbine facility closure.

Programs also assist returning war veterans, expanding their post-deployment career opportunities into the ag industry.

“Our role is to train them, bring them to the point where they would be able to repair precision ag equipment and technology, those kinds of things,” Gunderson says.

Courses also include backstop training for employees of implement dealerships and co-ops who might not have the background necessary to excel in their fields. The program will offer a range of activities, beginning this spring with computer training.

Research projects

Besides education and training, the Precision Ag Center also conducts research into specific technologies, with the help of student interns.

It is one of only two remaining community school facilities developed under former Gov. John Hoeven’s Centers of Excellence program, Gunderson says. Because of an increase in federal and state funding, the center has brought new faculty members on board to help with research and training.

“We’ve been very successful there,” Gunderson says, adding that the center has about $3.1 million available now and has more money pending on both the state and federal levels. The center also has private sector partners that assist both financially and in in-kind contributions.

Gunderson says the goal is to connect ag research, focusing on new technologies and improvements, including product testing for private companies.

The center has answer farms, contracted with farmers, throughout North Dakota where products and practices are tested across growing seasons to assess functionality and whether they would make a difference to a farm’s bottom line.

“We’ll go where we need to in order to secure the right kind of setting,” Gunderson says of the answer farms.

Gunderson and his researchers and students are developing a new slurry manure injection tool and will conduct tests this summer, he says. The new initiative will combine site-specific data and controllers to the injection toolbar so manure is injected precisely into soil zones that have the most potential for production, according to the center. This minimizes manure applications where soil is unfit for normal production or in sensitive areas such as buffers, watersheds, ditches, or drainage areas.

The researchers also will analyze soil biomes when the manure slurry is injected. Gunderson says the purpose is to determine if and how the soil biome is affected when the “alien” material is introduced. Colorado State University is assisting with the project.

With more funding will come even more courses and research projects, resulting in better and sharpened technologies and practices for the ag industry nationwide. And, most likely, even globally.

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