USDA NIFA Funds ‘Farm of the Future’ | Computing

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in late May that it is funding a new collaboration between two institutes and a research center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that will create an integrated farm of the future in the American Midwest.

Girish Chowdhary

Titled “I-FARM: Illinois Farming and Regenerative Management,” the three-year, $3.9 million project is funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The Illinois-led study will develop an 80-acre agricultural test bed, where staple crops (corn and soybeans) and livestock are grown using synergistic and sustainable practices.

“We will accelerate the creation, maturation, and adoption of new management technologies that are fundamentally more sustainable, cost-effective, affordable, and scale-neutral. The new practices will be enabled by the maturation of digital agricultural technologies developed through large-scale research efforts at the University of Illinois,” said lead researcher Girish Chowdhary, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. and computing.

NIFA’s “Farm of the Future” proposal process was extremely competitive, and only one was awarded across the country, said Vikram Adve, co-researcher and co-director of the Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA), Professor computer scientist Donald B. Gillies. .

“This grant is a major recognition of our growing strengths in digital agriculture,” Adve said.

The I-FARM is a unique partnership between CDA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at the U of I. For three years, the bench d I-FARM trial to showcase enhanced precision farming with remote sensing; new autonomous robotic under canopy solutions for planting cover crops, variable rate input applications and mechanical weeding; and artificial intelligence-based remote sensing for animal health prediction, nutrient quantification and soil health.

Adve Vikram
Adve Vikram

“With the data collected through this project, the MyFarm app will provide farmers with an integrated dashboard that can be customized to suit their farm’s needs,” Chowdhary said. “Our focus on scale-neutral technologies can provide a solution to the worsening labor crisis for small farms and improve the sustainability of large, spatially heterogeneous farms.”

I-FARM’s techno-economic simulations and farmer surveys will clarify barriers and incentives to the adoption of sustainable technologies for industry and farmers. Integrated extension activities will be carried out in a research space open to farmers, with demonstrations and training, facilitating the adoption of new technologies and opening new markets. The I-FARM team will also help the agriculture industry create new data-driven products and services for farmers, and an industry advisory board and a farmer advisory board will help maximize impact on practices. agricultural.

“Together, this integrated suite of solutions will lead to sustainable ways to meet the growing demands of agriculture in a changing climate,” said iSEE Co-PI and Acting Director Madhu Khanna, ACES Professor Emeritus of iSEE. agricultural and consumer economics. “CDA, iSEE, and NCSA have built the strongest research proposal by reaching across disciplines and bringing together expertise from across the University of Illinois – from computer science to economics to through crop science and animal science, we explore as many aspects as possible as we seek to build a farm of the future.

Small robot in a crop field.

“We look forward to fruitful collaboration with this project – and similar multidisciplinary work in the future, as it is the best way to solve most of the thorny problems this world will face.”

As the only “farm of the future” nationwide, “all eyes will be on this project as we lay the foundation for the future of farming,” Adve said. “We are excited to start this venture and grateful for the support from across campus.”

Other members of the U of I project include co-PI Kaiyu Guan, associate professor of natural resources and environmental sciences and founding director of the Agroecosystem Sustainability Center; and co-investigators Isabella Condotta, assistant professor of animal science; Deepak Vasisht, Assistant Professor of Computer Science; Shadi Atallah, associate professor of agricultural and consumer economics; Hamze Dokoohaki, Assistant Professor of Crop Sciences; Salah Issa, Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Andrew Margenot, assistant professor of cultural sciences; DoKyoung Lee, professor of cultural sciences; and Bin Peng, senior researcher at iSEE and NCSA.

The Illinois team will join forces with Olga Bolden-Tiller, dean of the College of Agricultural, Environmental, and Nutritional Sciences and professor of animal science, and Gregory Bernard, assistant professor of plant and floor at Tuskegee University.

“It’s an exciting time to embark on this project, and it’s a credit to our team, their expertise and the thriving research programs we can build on,” said Chowdhary, who holds also affiliations with electrical and computer engineering, aerospace. Engineering and the Coordinated Science Laboratory of Illinois. “I want to thank the institutes, CDA, our departments and colleges, and our Tuskegee partners for their assistance, the ACES College for securing the agricultural space for us, and especially those in the agriculture industry who graciously offered letters of support.”

Read the original iSEE story.

See more details on the I-FARM webpage.

Read the NIFA announcement.

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