Graduating University of Saskatchewan student Alex Hinz. (Photo: Submitted)
Graduating University of Saskatchewan student Alex Hinz. (Photo: Submitted)

USask’s new Precision Agriculture Certificate celebrates its first cohort of graduates

Fourteen students including Alex Hinz are graduating with the new certificate at USask Spring Convocation.

By Brett Makulowich

Alex Hinz will officially receive his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (major in Agronomy, minor in Agribusiness) plus the Certificate in Precision Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Spring Convocation on June 5.

The Precision Agriculture Certificate is a new program that provides USask undergraduate students the opportunity to gain knowledge and develop experiential skills in precision agriculture by leveraging competencies from their academic discipline. The program is recommended to students studying in agriculture and bioresources, engineering, computer science, environment and society, hydrology or regional and urban planning.

“I choose to pursue the new certificate since it provides hands-on learning experiences to develop skills that I could use on our own operation and to also give me a hiring advantage over other new graduates working in the industry,” said Hinz.

In the new program, students learn how to manage crops precisely to increase both production and sustainability. This includes knowledge of the technologies used in precision agriculture (satellite imagery, global positioning and information systems, big data, yield mapping, management zones) to understand what drives within-field crop yield variability from year to year.

“For agriculture, the use of technology, prescriptions, zone management, soil sampling, etc. is only going to become more and more important,” said Hinz. “Understanding the drivers of field scale variability, how to account for them, then refine, and filter data provides students competencies they need for the real world.”

Hinz’s family’s operation is near Muenster, Sask. and this growing season he is applying what he learned from the Precision Agriculture Certificate to the field.

“There is so much field scale variability in the Muenster and Humboldt area that it is difficult to associate results with product and not position be it from past management or landscape,” said Hinz. “This growing season I was able to expand on skills from the Precision Agriculture Certificate to identify the drivers within our fields and areas that would make good candidates for product trials. This will help eliminate the impact of landscape variability accounting for longer time periods.”

For Hinz, choosing the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) for his post-secondary education was an obvious choice.

“My mom and various family members attended the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, so I grew up hearing stories of the college and their time there,” said Hinz. “As a student, the Agriculture Building always felt like home on campus. Our student lounge is one of if not the best on campus, it’s always welcoming and busy.” 

Hinz excelled academically and was the recipient of four scholarships. He also participated in co-rec sports and held the roles of councilor and academic vice-president with the Agricultural Students Association (ASA).

As the ASA academic vice-president, Hinz organized the 2024 AgBio Challenge, a student competition and networking event. During the competition, students research and create presentations to address a current challenge in agriculture, before presenting them to a panel of industry judges.

“It’s difficult to choose a favourite course during my time in AgBio, but Agronomic Soil Microbiology with Dr. Bobbi Helgason (PhD) was one of my favourite science-based courses,” said Hinz. “It’s just such a unique course, I was intrigued by the ‘why’ of soil nutrient processes within fertility. Agricultural Finance with Dr. Tristen Skolrud (PhD) was by far my favorite non-science course. I felt this class gave me the some of the most applicable knowledge to take back to the farm especially on the business front.”

Hinz plans to return to his family’s farm to take over the business. He has also considered pursuing a graduate degree in plant sciences or agricultural economics in the future.

“I want to operate true replicated field scale trials by separating a small portion of our farm to research and study,” said Hinz. “By doing so, I hope to provide concrete data to myself and other farmers about products, eliminating some of the bias or influence from factors within the field.”

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