Agronomy Classes Blend Technology, Farming, Management


Students are learning about the intersection of agriculture and technology with introductions to agronomy, a field of study in which crop experts help farmers by answering questions and solving problems. Over the past 7 years, the field has been growing rapidly.

Agronomists help farmers plan their crops, make fertilizer choices, and guard against diseases and weeds. Agronomists are in high demand, and their starting salaries can range from $35,000-$60,000 per year.

Carmel Miller, an Associate Professor of Precision Agriculture at Bismarck State College, said:

Especially as the farms are getting larger, they rely pretty heavily on their agronomy center, which is typically their co-op.

Even interns in Miller’s program make $15 per hour, and BSC is hosting a summer agriculture academy to teach more students about agronomy. For example, student Morgan Krizan demonstrated farming technology for Amy R. Sisk of the Bismarck Tribune. She drove a John Deere four-wheeler with a GPS monitor that tracked her route and help her make the next row. In addition to automated steering, tractors also use technology to guard against over-planting or over-spraying.

Alicia Ewen of KXNews quoted her instructor, Product Specialist Brent Horner, about how farming is becoming a delicate, high-technology precision industry:

So when you’re driving down the interstate or down a field and you see perfectly straight rows and you’re trying to figure out how they drive that way — they didn’t. It will actually follow that line and follow it within one inch. When a grower or producer gets to the end of the field and needs to turn around they just grab the steering wheel, turn it around, get lined up on their next pass.

Krizan echoed the sentiments of students who see promise in agronomy’s unique blend of technology, business and societal benefit:

I want to be an agronomist. Being able to help feed people and helping farmers do their jobs would be rewarding.

In another program, farming organization AgForce and the Central Highlands Science Centre are working together to provide a 5-week program for kids, writes Amy McCosker of ABC Rural. Each week focuses on a different topic.

Lisa Caffery of the local science club has found opportunity in bridging the gap between farming areas, science and technology:

Next year we will change it up, we’ll have five different topics. Living in a rural and regional location it is mad that we don’t know more about agricultural science, so why wouldn’t we include it? It’s fun, it’s hands on, it’s practical, and the kids get to learn something they don’t learn at school. This is the way of making children excited about science.

Ali Briggs of AgForce said that bringing the complexities of farming to young minds is rewarding:

This has been a really great example of working over a five-week term. It’s really interesting to see how they are learning and progressing and they are realizing that agriculture is not just tractors and cows, it’s actually a whole career option.

In North Carolina, retired teacher Benjie Forrest is campaigning for more emphasis on agricultural education, writes Ginger Livingston of Reflector. Before his retirement in June of this year, he was Eastern Regional Coordinator of Agricultural Education and Future Farmers of America for the state, and taught agriculture for 18 years at Washington High School in Beaufort County.

Forrest pointed to the roots of STEM-focused education being in farming:

The number one limiting factor in growing agricultural education in the state is to have enough qualified, certified agricultural teachers in the state.

I like to say ag education was STEM before STEM education came about.