BOZEMAN — Sreekala Bajwa, of Montana State University’s College of Agriculture and director of the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station, received a national award for her engineering achievement in agriculture.
Bajwa received the 2022 Cyrus Hall McCormick Jerome Increase Case Gold Medal from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The award, currently sponsored by CNH Industrial, honors exceptional and meritorious engineering achievement in agriculture that has resulted in new concepts, products, processes and methods that advanced the development of agriculture. Bajwa was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the industrial adoption of precision agriculture technologies, agricultural byproduct utilization and ensuing contributions to foundational technologies.
Bajwa was nominated by colleagues in 2019 when she was chair of the North Dakota State University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and professor of agricultural engineering. Nominations are valid for three years. Bajwa’s research projects focused on industry collaboration and economic development in the Red River Valley.
“Although I graciously accepted this award, it was on behalf of all the people who have contributed to this research program,” said Bajwa, who has been with MSU since 2019. “My faculty colleagues, graduate students, postdocs and external collaborators all played an equally important role in developing and maintaining an impactful research program at North Dakota State University.”
In North Dakota, Bajwa and her team worked with a local company, Masonite, to identify new plant-based raw materials for making door components. The company had been using wheat straw for the fiber core of its manufactured exterior doors, but the material was becoming too expensive with unreliable quality. Bajwa and her team identified soybean- and corn-based fibers to mix with wheat fibers to maintain the quality of the doors and lower the raw material cost. Also based on their recommendations, the company modified their production process and bought soybean straw materials from farmers in the region, keeping materials local and bringing revenue to the state.
Bajwa’s team also worked with a military contracting company to repurpose its drones for agricultural applications in the Red River Valley, which she said was the first time a large unmanned aerial system was used for that purpose in the U.S.
As MSU’s vice president of agriculture and director of MAES, Bajwa said that one of her responsibilities is to understand the research needs of the agriculture sector in Montana from farmers, ranchers and other agriculture stakeholders, and to connect them with researchers to address those needs through producer engaged research.
Bajwa also advocates the adoption of precision agriculture practices in Montana, which include GPS, sensors, robotics and geographic information systems to help with farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications and yield mapping. The College of Agriculture hired four precision agriculture faculty members earlier this year to help create a precision agriculture program and facilitate research. Those faculty members meet with agricultural producers to learn about their most pressing concerns and create research plans to try and mitigate the issues, including invasive weeds, soil acidification, nutrient management and more.
“The key to my success has been bringing together a multitude of constituents and experts to work together to take advantage of research opportunities. This approach has been successful for me, and for many scientists I know. The MSU College of Agriculture is working on facilitating such collaborations for our researchers to address the challenges Montana agriculture faces,” Bajwa said.
An international organization with more than 8,000 members, ASABE represents educators, researchers and professionals tackling issues ranging from air and water quality to resource management, livestock environment, food engineering and Bajwa’s specialty, precision agriculture.
MSU News Service