Agriculture programs growing at SDSU

South Dakota State University is growing its focus on agriculture. President Barry Dunn, previously the dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU, was selected in April this year to succeed David Chicoine as the leader of...

At center, South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn talks with guests during an SDSU Alumni Association gathering on Monday evening at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)

South Dakota State University is growing its focus on agriculture.

President Barry Dunn, previously the dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at SDSU, was selected in April this year to succeed David Chicoine as the leader of the university.

"As a dean of agriculture and biological science, certainly I saw, as important as agriculture is to this state, I certainly saw a lot of opportunities," Dunn said Monday in an interview with The Daily Republic. "It was growing before I became dean and it's really been strong since." For SDSU's new president, the summer has been very busy, but "extremely valuable," Dunn said.

For a part of his summer, Dunn has been meeting with alumni across the state including Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Pierre and most recently Mitchell. On Monday night, Dunn spoke at a meet and greet with local alumni at the Highland Conference Center.

An estimated 180 students, which is quickly approaching 200, according to Dunn, attend SDSU from the Mitchell and Ethan area, making it an important place for the university.


And surrounding Mitchell there are thousands of acres of fields and farmland, an important part of SDSU with its expanding agriculture program.

Since 2010, students pursuing degrees such as agronomy, animal science and ag system technology are growing in enrollment.

In the last five years, the ag systems technology major has grown from 69 students to 155 according to enrollment numbers in fall 2015. In animal science, the number has increased from 367 to 443 in 2015.

Part of this, Dunn said, is the major investment the university has made into facilities into the college, and across the university.

One investment was for new facilities within the animal science department, Dunn said, making it one of the strongest research programs in the United States.

"In other land grant universities, animal science programs are not nearly as robust as ours," Dunn said.

And for plant science, a new partnership was formed between General Mills and SDSU earlier this summer with the announcement of a new state-of-the-art oat variety development lab on campus. The lab will focus on advancing sustainability and quality of oats in the United States. Dunn said SDSU is one of the last land-grant universities with an oat breeding program. And on top of the plant and animal science's recent growth, SDSU also has a fully fledged dairy program, Dunn said.

"We've kept the breadth and added depth," Dunn said about SDSU's agricultural programs.


And then there's precision agriculture major, which prepares students for careers bridging gaps between agronomy, machinery management and data sciences. Dunn said this is the only precision agriculture program in the United States at the four-year degree level.

Dunn said agriculture will continue to be very strong on campus, but it's not the only area on campus that's improving. Engineering, pharmacy and many of the departments in the college of education and human sciences are remaining strong, too, Dunn said.

"What an exciting place it is," Dunn said. "It is growing and changing and there's just this commitment to continuous improvement, whether that be academics or athletics or student life. All three of those are just so important to us to be a successful university."

Research is also a major component on SDSU's campus. Dunn said grant expenditures in research productivity focused in agriculture is also at an all-time high last year at SDSU.

"Certainly from a research perspective, from a extension perspective, we are strong and growing and I think that Mitchell cares because we have a regional extension office here," Dunn said. "Mitchell cares because of those great opportunities for those 180 plus students."

And there's not only SDSU students in the Mitchell area, but a large amount of alumni reside in the Mitchell area, too.

Steve Erpenbach, president and CEO of SDSU's Foundation, accompanied Dunn in his trip to Mitchell and meeting with alumni from the area. Erpenbach said earlier Monday, Dunn received a tour of Innovative Systems in Mitchell, where 19 employees are SDSU graduates. Avera Queen of Peace also has a fair amount of alumni, too, Erpenbach said.

"I think a lot of students come from here, but a lot of our students are ending up here in terms of healthcare and technology and really important industries in Mitchell," Erpenbach said.


The official inaugural celebration for Dunn will be held at SDSU in late September.

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