BROOKINGS, S.D. - Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on the campus of South Dakota State University for the $46.1 million Raven Precision Agriculture Center.   The site will be home to a state-of-the-art facility that will make South Dakota a national and global leader within the precision agriculture industry. Stakeholders from across the state supported the facility and attended the groundbreaking event in Brookings. 

Raven Industries of Sioux Falls, a leading precision ag company, stepped up with a contribution of $5 million for the facility.  Lon Stroschein, Raven Director of Corporate Development, says they felt it was important for the company to support the future of the No. 1 industry in the state.  

“We said this isn’t an obligation, this is an opportunity we have to invest in agriculture,” he says.

He says it was also important develop students and the next generation of leaders in the industry that will be the future workforce at Raven.  He says, “In two, three, four, five years from now as new graduates come out, we’ve got an opportunity to hire some of the best educated students in the world.”

Stroschein says precision agriculture is the only way farmers will be able to raise more food and feed for a growing population and do it sustainably.

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“Technology in agriculture enables you to use less product, less input, spend less time in the field and increase your yield and you’re able to do that in a way that’s more environmentally friendly because you’re using less when you need less, you’re using more where you need more,” he says.  

The South Dakota Corn Utilization Council also contributed $5 million and council Chairman Ryan Wagner says it will pay back big dividends not just to farmers, but the state’s economy.  

“This could be an additional economic impact of $35 million in profits for farmers, not only with reduced inputs and lowering costs, but increased productivity,” he says. Wagner said he believes precision agriculture will be the key to his future success as a farmer.  

Chester, S.D., farmer Keith Alverson donated to the precision ag building because he says precision agriculture has been a game-changer on his farm and training students in the field is critical.  

“I really think that we’re witnessing a revolution in precision technology as far as data management and what kind of yield bump that’s going to bring because of the information that we’re able to collect within the fields.  We can use that information to make better decisions and then push our yields further.”

SDSU President Barry Dunn says they are excited about the facility and how it will benefit the state’s farmers and consumers.  

“I think we’ll improve our relationships with consumers. I think we’re going to improve our stewardship of our environment. I think we’re going to improve the profitability of agriculture,” he says.  

State Rep. Lee Qualm says funding the project was a heavy lift in the depressed agricultural economy, but was a real success story.  He says there was a groundswell of support across the agricultural community and within the state Legislature that made funding for the facility a reality.  

“It was a perfect public-private partnership, where everybody comes in on a project that everybody knows is what we need to do and the public side is willing to throw in money, the private side is willing to throw in money.  We put the two together and we make it happen,” he says.

SDSU announced last year it would be offering the first precision agriculture major in the country.  Dunn says they have already changed curriculum to make that happen. The major offers courses in data analytics, GPS-GIS technology, precision crop production, precision data mapping and sensor technology.  The center will enhance that work with outstanding classrooms and laboratories that will help foster innovation and collaboration.

The Raven Precision Agriculture Center will be located just south of the Animal Science complex and has 129,000 square feet of floor space.  Groundwork on the center will begin yet this fall, with construction starting in spring 2019. Dunn says they hope to have the facility completed in 2021.