Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

FarmBots to train Sturgis Brown students in precision agriculture

STURGIS, SD – Four of the 17 South Dakota schools awarded grant funds for career and technical education (CTE) recently will use the money to buy electric vehicle kits.

Two of them will use grant funding to help train students in a more mature technology: precision agriculture. One of the schools that will soon have an EV kit, Aberdeen Central High School, used an earlier round of grant funding to purchase 10 “FarmBot” systems; Sturgis Brown High School will buy two of the systems with the recently announced grant funds.

Sturgis CTE instructor Cyle Miller’s students will set up and program the FarmBots to plant, weed, and harvest greenhouse produce. They’ll also use their programming and engineering know-how to convert manual lathes and milling machines into robotic versions of the farm tools.

The produce will be used by the culinary arts programs, Miller said. The goal is to prepare CTE students in varying courses for a world in which the hands-on jobs they might perform are tied to new and emerging technologies.

“They tell us as career and technical educators that as many as 60% of the jobs that our students are going to fill haven’t even been created yet,” Miller said. “We’re really trying to reach out to give these students as broad of base of experiences as we can, so that they have a good opportunity to identify those new career paths.”

The same is true in Aberdeen, where students in welding class built the greenhouse boxes that will soon be cared for by the FarmBots. Networking and broadcasting students will connect live-streaming cameras in the greenhouse to elementary school computer feeds to allow young students to direct their own plantings and watch their progress, according to CTE Instructor Joshua Jensen.

Ultimately, the work introduces students to the idea that technology and modern agriculture go hand-in-hand.

“It does it all automatically through a software program that our students will be able to modify and expand,” Jensen said of the program, which he expects to be fully operational by next May. “We’re looking at it more like precision agriculture to get the highest yields.”

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A tractor sits under the northern lights. Farmers and ranchers were unable to use some of the equipment after the solar storms responsible for the northern lights disrupted the GPS. (Photo by Tiffany Graham / Minnesota Public Radio)

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