Posts Tagged: technology
The University of California, Davis, has been awarded $20 million as part of a multi-institutional collaboration to establish a new institute focused on enabling the next generation food system through the integration of artificial intelligence, or AI, technologies. The award is part of a larger investment announced Aug. 26 by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, in partnership with several federal agencies — distributing a total of $140 million to fund seven complimentary AI research institutes across the nation.
The AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS, aims to meet growing demands in our food supply by increasing efficiencies using AI and bioinformatics spanning the entire system — from growing crops through consumption. This includes optimizing plant traits for yield, crop quality and disease resistance through advances in molecular breeding, in addition to minimizing resource consumption and waste through development of agriculture-specific AI applications, sensing platforms, and robotics. The team's plan also intends to benefit consumers through enhancements to food safety and development of new tools to provide real-time assessment of meals that can guide personalized health decisions.
“The food system is ripe for disruption, with many advances over the past decade paving the way to a transformation,” said Ilias Tagkopoulos, professor in the UC Davis Department of Computer Science and Genome Center, and director of the new institute. “AI will serve as both the enabling technology and the connective tissue that brings together these elements and catalyzes this transformation to a safer, fairer and more efficient food system for the next generation.”
Other principal investigators from UC Davis include Nitin Nitin, professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Mason Earles, assistant professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology; and Xin Liu, professor in the Department of Computer Science.
The institute has been designed to be inclusive, fostering collaborations to develop open-source AI solutions across the food system. Given food's fundamental role in human health and well-being, coupled with its far-reaching impacts on the national economy and environment, the institute will bring together over 40 researchers from six institutions: UC Davis; UC Berkeley; Cornell University; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
In addition to the scientific and technical objectives, the institute's charter includes a significant focus on education, outreach and collaboration.
“Our success won't only come from breakthroughs and innovation of new technologies and systems, but also a ready workforce, an engaged public and collaboration with industry partners to solve real challenges,” said Gabriel Youtsey, chief innovation officer at UC ANR.
Education and engagement
The institute's plan includes programs specific for K-16 education, college internships and fellowships, curriculum enrichment, broadening participation and diversity, corporate engagement, and knowledge transfer. These programs will be bolstered by leveraging existing platforms such as UC Davis' Innovation Institute for Food and Health, CITRIS Banatao Institute and UC ANR's Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, or VINE. Additional efforts are planned in alignment with NSF's call to ensure AI systems are secure, safe, ethical and fair through design, accountability and transparency.
Development of the proposal for the award was facilitated by the Interdisciplinary Research and Strategic Initiatives division of the Office of Research at UC Davis. The institute is designated as a Special Research Program under the administration of the Office of Research.
“As with many of our world's greatest challenges, addressing the critical needs in our food supply requires extensive collaboration between experts from different disciplines,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “The collection of expertise assembled for this new institute brings much hope for transformative advancements to be realized.”
Funding for the institute is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of a larger initiative led by the U.S. National Science Foundation to establish new artificial intelligence institutes to accelerate research, expand America's workforce and transform society in the decades to come. The NSF AI institutes will collaborate with industry and government to advance the frontiers of AI as well as a range of science and engineering disciplines and societal sectors that stand to benefit from AI innovation.
“Recognizing the critical role of AI, NSF is investing in collaborative research and education hubs, such as the USDA-NIFA AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems anchored at UC Davis, which will bring together academia, industry, and government to unearth profound discoveries and develop new capabilities advancing American competitiveness for decades to come,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Just as prior NSF investments enabled the breakthroughs that have given rise to today's AI revolution, the awards being announced today will drive discovery and innovation that will sustain American leadership and competitiveness in AI for decades to come.”
From robot vacuum cleaners and doorbell cameras to social media and e-commerce, technology is continually transforming lives and businesses. The world's oldest industry – agriculture – is no exception.
Remote sensors are all but eliminating the need for farmers to walk plant rows and make decisions based solely on observations, experience and intuition. New technologies that gather and analyze data can optimize crop needs, reduce environmental impacts, increase efficiency, cut energy costs and save water. The latest innovations were on display at the fourth annual Open Farm conference Oct. 23 in Tulare.
A demonstration by PowWow Energy showed artificial intelligence technology not only improving farming, but also spinning off new ideas and local businesses in rural communities. PowWow supports farms who have solar panels with information to optimize their return on investment. By monitoring weather, utility rates and meters, and the panels' energy generation, the company calculates precisely when energy losses caused by dust on the solar panels are valued higher than the cost of cleaning them. When it's time to wash the panels, farmers receive a text notification.
That got Tulare County dairy farmer Justin Roeloffs thinking about the growing need to efficiently clean dust from solar panels. He built a solar panel cleaning system that was so effective, he started a business – Roeloffs Solutions – to offer panel cleaning to other solar owners, creating new jobs in the farming community.
“The almond season is a disaster for solar panels,” Roeloffs said. “Some farmers buy a kit and do it themselves, but we had many calls for our service the first month in business.” Last summer, Roeloffs Solutions cleaned panels that generate 30 megawatts of power.
The founder of Concentric Power, Brian Curtis, explained the business he built to manage the energy usage and needs of large food processors, beginning in the Salinas Valley. The system allows businesses to save money on their energy bills, maximize the use of renewable energy and maintain reliable energy availability, even during blackouts and brownouts. Concentric Power combines wind, solar, co-generation and battery storage to develop a company's own micro-grid.
“The recent public safety power shutoffs are ringing our bell,” Curtis said. “The stars have aligned for us.” So far three Salinas Valley food processors and one in Bakersfield have installed the micro-grid systems. Curtis said energy intensive ag industries – such as dairies, cheese processors and wine producers – are potential clients.
A variety of other automation solutions were also shared at Open Farm:
- Darryl Hadlich of WiseConn said the company's precision irrigation timing system – monitored by infield sensors and controlled by in-field nodes – allows farmers to schedule, start and end irrigation and fertigation using their cellphones or desktop computers. The associated software also shows when energy companies offer lower, off-peak rates to enable irrigation scheduling when the cost to operate the pump will be at its lowest.
- Conner Kingman of Kingman Ag Service is perfecting technology to reconfigure the tractors farmers already own with artificial intelligence-aided computers to pull a wide variety of farm implements through the field, such as a spring tooth cultivator, mower, shredder and sprayer. The driverless tractors reduce labor needs, and enable farm work to continue around the clock without breaks or worker safety concerns.
- Jose Baer at PowWow Energy detailed programmable irrigation systems for small and large farming operations. The field is monitored with aerial images and uses data from in-field sensors for targeted water application.
- John Cardoza of Sustainable Conservation explained a collaborative research project that studied methods for dairy wastewater management using sensors, sand media filters and drip irrigation. In the study, nitrous oxide emissions were cut by 70%, water use by 36% and nitrogen applications by 45%.
During a researcher and industry panel on the state of technology integration from the grower's perspective, participants reflected on how technology will help prepare for the future. The panel was moderated by Dennis Donahue, director of Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology:
- Director of the Tulare County Resource Conservation District Mike Chrisman, a long-time Tulare County farmer, noted that data will be increasingly critical for farming as California agriculture enters the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act era in 2020. The law requires that California groundwater usage be “sustainable” by 2040 – meaning that the amount that is drawn out must match the amount that is recharged. “This will change the way we all do business,” Chrisman said. “Agriculture in 20 years won't look like it looks today.”
- Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center and a sorghum extension specialist, said high technology companies will rely on UC researchers to confirm that their products are meeting expectations. UC scientists can contribute by applying their knowledge on plant growth and development. “We understand biology and how plants use water,” he said. “We will be asked to ground truth technology.”
The event is a collaborative effort by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Fresno State's BlueTech Valley, the California Energy Commission, PowWow Energy, West Hills College and the Western Grower Center for Innovation and Technology. Open Farm 2019 was hosted at the Southern California Edison Energy Education Center.
Wine grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley who want to switch from hand pruning to mechanical pruning won't have to replant their vineyards to accommodate machinery, according to a new study published in HortTechnology by University of California Cooperative Extension researchers. Instead, growers can retrain the vines to make the transition, without losing fruit yield or quality.
Mechanical pruning reduced labor costs by 90%, resulted in increased grape yields and had no impact on the grape berry's anthocyanin content. That's welcome news for growers because the cost of re-establishing a vineyard in the region is roughly $15,600 per acre.
“We found that growers do not have to plant a new vineyard to mechanize their operations,” said Kaan Kurtural, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. “We have proven beyond a doubt that an older vineyard can be converted to mechanization. There is no loss in yield during conversion and post-conversion yield is better and fruit quality is equivalent to or better than hand-managed vines. The economies of scale are evident in the savings per acre and per vine as depicted in the balance sheet provided with the newly published paper.”
The research was conducted in an 8-acre portion of a 53-acre, 20-year-old Merlot vineyard in Madera County. After completion of the research project, the grower converted the rest of the 53-acre vineyard to single high-wire sprawling system. Many other wine grape growers have followed suit.
The Wine Group, which manages 13,000 acres of vineyards across Central California, is establishing new vineyards and converting old vineyards for mechanical pruning and suckering, said vineyard manager Nick Davis. Davis, who works closely with Kurtural and the UCCE viticulture advisor in Fresno County, George Zhuang, said the company greatly values the UC Cooperative Extension research that is guiding the changes.
“I think extensionists are undervalued,” Davis said. “We lean on them for applied research, which has been wonderful. They offer us what we can't provide ourselves.”
More than half of all California wine grapes are grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Worker shortages, rising labor costs, low returns and occasional droughts are driving wine grape growers to seek innovative ways to sustain their businesses.
“To help growers maintain the profitability of their vineyards, we're studying the use of machines to reduce the number of people needed to perform tasks like pruning,” Zhuang said.
“Because the canopy architecture and yield characteristics of mechanically pruned vines are different from vines that are hand-pruned, the water and fertilizer requirements for the mechanically pruned vines can be quite different. So we are studying the yield and fruit quality of grapes produced on different rootstocks in mechanical pruning systems in the San Joaquin Valley,” Zhuang said.
The Madera field study was conducted for three consecutive seasons in the hot climate conditions typical of the San Joaquin Valley. In this area, traditional vineyards are head-trained to a 38-inch-tall trunk above the vineyard floor and two eight-node canes are laid on a catch wire in opposite directions and two eight-node canes are attached to a 66-inch high catch wire. Although this traditional training system can work for mechanical harvesting, it doesn't accommodate mechanical dormant pruning and shoot removal with limited success in other mechanical canopy management operations.
To accommodate mechanical pruning and shoot removal, the vines were converted to a bilateral cordon-trained, spur-pruned California sprawl training system, or to a bilateral cordon-trained, mechanically box-pruned single high-wire sprawling system.
The latter option proved to be the most successful system for mechanical pruning in the San Joaquin Valley.
Technology holds tremendous promise for the California agricultural industry, however there are challenges that must be better understood and managed, wrote Damon Kitney in an article distributed to participants in an Oct. 2 technology conference in San Francisco.
Using artificial intelligence to speed up genetic selection is one area where technology is evolving in the laboratories of the Silicon Valley. Glenda Humiston, the vice president for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, was quoted extensively in Kitney's article about the potential of AI and other technologies in agriculture.
"Artificial intelligence is extremely difficult in agriculture because of the huge amount of variability in environmental conditions across a single field," Humiston said. "This requires many sensors, complex algorithms and large real-time data processing - all integrated and working together to inform decisions and actions."
Humiston said the ability to pull together an array of data - from drones, robots, sensors and genomics - and use it for informed decision making will require significant improvements in how 'big data' is managed. Point solutions are being developed by universities, startups and corporate innovators, but few are integrated to provide real-life solutions for farmers.
"Integration will be a key factor in making these technologies affordable and available to most farmers," she said. "Many startup technologies for agtech are hitting the market with glossy websites, pitch events and marketing materials that appeal to investors, but the science behind them is dubious."
A key issue covered in the article is the cost and availability of labor in berry production. About 60 percent of the costs associated with berries are labor. At times, a significant portion of berries are lost when farmers can't find labor to get them picked.
Despite the effort to find technology to cut labor needs, human labor in the field will never be replaced, according to Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension strawberry and caneberry advisor for Santa Cruz County.
"It's not realistic to see robots as the full solution for our labor issues, rather more success will be found in berries by combining robots with already existing labor of humans," he said.
Berries are very soft fruits. Technology to find them, pick them and put them in a box does not exist, Bolda said. Robots of the future will likely transport full boxes out of the field, bring in new boxes, monitor the rate of picking and charting field issues.
UCCE farm management advisor Laura Torte concurs.
"Humans bring sensory attributes to agriculture that robotics and mechanization has not - yet - been able to perfect," she said.
A torrent of technology is flowing into the agricultural sector. To make sense of it, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Fresno State and West Hills Community College came together with technology vendors and growers at Open Farm 2018, held in October at UC ANR's Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
“A lot of technology is coming out,” said Kearney director and UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist Jeff Dahlberg. “I need to caution you, it's not all is based on science. We are helping with testing.”
Dalhberg has been working with Blue River Technologies to monitor the growth of dozens of sorghum cultivars. Throughout the growing season, Blue River flew drones over the sorghum nursery with cameras to capture their growth and development.
“We have a huge phenotypic dataset,” Dalhberg said. “It will be compared at the genetic level with plant samples and help us identify genes associated with drought tolerance.”
At Open Farm, Dahlberg's field presentation was paired with Smartfield, a company that uses fixed cameras and field sensors to gather information for “big data crunching.”
PowWow Energy, based in San Francisco with a field office at the Water, Energy and Technology (WET) Center at Fresno State, met near a well at Kearney to explain how the company can help growers with decision support tools. The company believes their technology will be useful for farmers tracking groundwater usage, data that will be key to complying with new rules associated with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA, signed by Gov. Brown in 2014, gives local agencies the authority to manage groundwater in a way that achieves sustainability by 2042.
UCCE agriculture mechanization specialist Ali Pourezza introduced a prototype he developed with junior specialist German Zuniga-Ramirez that he believes will make early detection of the devastating citrus disease huanglongbing as easy as taking a photo with a smartphone camera.
The idea is based on the optical characteristics of the disease in leaves. By using a polarizing light, leaves on diseased trees are immediately identified. Infected trees can then be torn out before insects have the chance to spread the disease to other trees.
Pourezza and Zuniga-Ramirez are seeking funding to take the prototype to the next level, and eventually commercialize the product.
This sampling of innovations being showcased at Kearney is part of a continuing effort by UC to connect the ag community with technology developers and resources that is shepherded by a new UC ANR program called The VINE, Verde Innovation Network For Entrepreneurship. The VINE was created by UC ANR in 2017 to link entrepreneurs with mentors, advisors, collaborators, events, competitions and education.
At Open Farm 2018, UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston was the keynote speaker. She outlined three areas where farmers, the technology sector and academia can work together to accelerate technology application in rural parts of California: improve broadband access, identify high-value uses for biomass and establish water infrastructure in rural communities.
To address the broadband issue, Humiston is leading an initiative to document mobile internet speed across California – including rural areas. In April 2019, Humiston plans to enlist 4-H members across the state to test internet speed using the free smartphone app CalSpeed several times over a period of a week.
“This will give us a snapshot of mobile broadband service availability,” Humiston said.
The crisis in the Sierra Nevada – where millions of trees died from the drought of 2010-16 – could prompt the development of high-value uses of biomass and establish a market for biomass derived in the agricultural sector, she said.
Humiston also took the opportunity to ask participants to help make sure the critical services UC ANR provides – including county-based UC Cooperative Extension, nine research and extension centers, the UC integrated pest management program, 4-H youth development, UC Master Gardeners and others – continue to fuel the California economy. Diminished funding from the State of California is taking a toll on the UC ANR budget.
“We need people like you to work with the VINE to set up improved support,” Humiston said.