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New precision ag program to boost farm productivity

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

At a recent meeting, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee to begin offering an Associate in Applied Science degree program in Precision Agriculture Technology.

The program will begin in the fall 2005 semester under the direction of Program Chair Tim Sharp. He comes to OSU-Okmulgee from Jackson State Community College in Tennessee, where he developed a Precision Agriculture program. Sharp is currently in the process of designing OSU-Okmulgee’s new program and recruiting students. Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach said OSU-Okmulgee’s Precision Agriculture Program will benefit the state’s agriculture industry.

“A degree program specializing in using advanced technologies to maximize profits and helping protect the environment will be a tremendous asset for the future of Oklahoma agriculture. The new developments we’ve seen in agricultural technologies and systems over the past decade have created opportunities that our grandfathers could never have imagined," Sharp said. "An educational program designed to help students utilize and expand these technologies in agriculture is going to be a valuable addition to OSU-Okmulgee and our state’s agricultural industry.

"We are looking forward to seeing the rewards of this program in the future. Precision Agriculture technology brings efficiency to farming by reducing input costs, improving yields and creating greater net profits. It’s a technically demanding field that few people understand.”

Sharp explained that biotechnology, computers and telecommunications are integrated to help farmers grow, manage and ship crops and livestock in ways that are more profitable for the producer and helpful for the environment.

“Where farmers once looked up at the skies and hoped for rain, now, using satellites, they look down on the earth to see what their land needs,” Sharp said. “Farmers can use satellite global positioning technology to program farm equipment according to a computer analysis of discrete sections of land. The machinery then delivers specific amounts of seed or fertilizer to meet the requirements of each area.”

Sharp said graduates from the Precision Agriculture Technology program will be prepared for a higher level of agriculture, in which most new jobs require the skills of GIS, GPS and remote sensing in addition to the familiar disciplines of agronomy, plant science, animal science and agricultural business.

“Employment opportunities range from botanist, forest geneticist, or soil and water specialist; to environmental compliance assurance manager or pollution prevention/control manager; to agricultural economist, international agri-marketing specialist, or farm/ranch manager; to animal scientist, animal nutritionist, or aquaculturist (cultivating marine or freshwater food fish)," he said.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, one of the state's largest industries is agriculture, contributing $7.1 billion annually to the state's economy. Agriculture represents 10% of the state’s gross product and provides one of every six jobs in Oklahoma.

“It would be worth many millions of dollars annually to Oklahoma if every farmer across the state were to adopt precision agriculture techniques," said Bill Raun, OSU Regents professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Raun is known throughout the agronomy industry for his ongoing role in developing and refining sensor-based technologies capable of increasing cereal grain yields and nutrient-use efficiencies.

“Precision agriculture promotes management that is both economically viable and environmentally sound," Raun said. "Universities have an obligation to provide cutting-edge information to their students so that when the students graduate, they have the skills and knowledge that employers are paying to get. Once a university program gets a reputation for turning out graduates who are well-trained and informed, industry starts to look at the university and its graduates with a very favorable eye.”

Mark Allen, division chair of OSU-Okmulgee’s Arts and Sciences Division, said that Precision Agriculture Technology is on the cutting edge of agricultural technology and is a natural fit for the university’s technical mission.

“Students will be learning to use GPS and GIS technologies to provide detailed information to farmers on their crop’s health status, irrigation and fertilizer need, plus warn of attacks by insects or weeds,” Allen said. “Since Oklahoma State University in Stillwater is a leading agricultural university in the nation, it’s natural for OSU-Okmulgee to offer this program.”

Allen said OSU-Okmulgee’s agriculture degree program is designed to meet the needs of two types of students: those who want to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree in agriculture with high employment potential and an average starting salary of $28,000 or those who wish to complete their first two years of an agriculture degree, then transfer to OSU’s Stillwater campus to earn their bachelor’s degree.

Sharp said credit hours acquired in earning an Associate in Applied Science degree in the Precision Agriculture Technology program at OSU-Okmulgee will transfer to the agriculture bachelor’s degree programs at OSU in Stillwater, including animal science, agronomy and agricultural business. Sharp has a Bachelor of Science in agronomy from OSU and a master's in weed science from the University of Arkansas. In addition to his experience in the academic setting, he has extensive experience in the corporate world, including management positions at DuPont Company, EZSOIL Company and Tennessee Seeds.   

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