Miller: Helping expand Precision Ag education

February 27, 2018

In recent years Bismarck State College has shown its strengths in the realms of energy and cybersecurity, but take a closer look and one would find a growing interest in its long-time focus on agriculture.

Associate Professor of Agriculture, Technology and Natural Resources Carmel Miller may have helped that along.

Miller, now in her 17th year of teaching at BSC, initially got into the role after working with the NDSU Extension Service’s education and outreach. Looking for something that was a new challenge, she found the opportunity to work extensively with students at BSC.

Agriculture was a natural choice. Miller grew up on a ranch, and like many in agriculture-focused states, was involved in 4-H and FFA so agriculture education was a natural fit.

“Even though agriculture has faced some financially difficult times, I don’t ever regret being involved in this industry, she noted. “It has given me the opportunity to continually be challenged in a dynamic, always evolving and rapidly changing industry. There are so many diverse opportunities for students choosing agriculture. I’m thankful to do my part in promoting and teaching about ‘ag.’”

That part in promoting agriculture has aligned her with the Precision Ag curriculum at the college. While Precision Ag courses seem to be gaining steam throughout higher education thanks to rapid shifts in technology, BSC’s class has been around as long as Miller has been teaching. Recently three additional precision ag courses have been added.

According to Miller, new technologies give ag producers the ability to apply precise amounts of product at a specific place and a specific time. In addition to plenty of environmental and economic appeal due to site-specific management, Precision Ag technology has also become more user-friendly and efficient.

Miller said it could be hard to keep up with technology that changed so rapidly, but noted that was a challenge for many industries. In North Dakota, industry support helped keep the program’s equipment updated and helped pass along expertise when applicable. Occasional grant funding helped, as well.

“The equipment we have today will be old tomorrow, and so it’s important to change the way we look at teaching students,” Miller noted. “It’s not so important that they are proficient at one piece of technology, but rather that they have the tools in their toolbox to be able to adapt to changes in technology.”

Miller added that while tech may have changed, the students’ enthusiasm for the subject matter has not.

“Part of the enjoyment of teaching in a ‘tech’ program is the students are for the most part engaged in the classroom,” she said. “They are taking classes in their interest area and I find the students to be just as passionate about agriculture as I was at their age.”

She and the other instructors should have plenty of interested and engaged classrooms. In the past few years, BSC’s Agriculture Program has increased by leaps and bounds thanks to good years for ag commodities and corresponding excitement throughout the industry. That all aided student enrollment even after commodity price dips.

“Agriculture still provides many great career opportunities and I think that people are generally more aware of this,” Miller stated. “These is also a renewed interest in food including how you grow food and consumer awareness in general.

“Our program specifically increased our Precision Ag curriculum, along with Agronomy courses, in response to industry needs in our area,” she concluded. “We also have put forth more effort in marketing “agriculture careers” to high school students. Changes in our curriculum and getting the word out, along with some excellent jobs for two year degree students, has certainly helped our program grow.”