By Samantha Grenrock
As we begin 2018, there are more than 7.4 billion people on planet Earth. By 2050, that number is expected to reach 9.8 billion. With so many more people to feed, plus the uncertainties of changing climate, we’ll have to find ways to produce more nutritious food with fewer resources.
Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences say new technologies will help farmers grow the needed bumper crop and grow it more efficiently.
“Various new technologies—sensors, mathematical models, data analytics—contribute to increased efficiency of food production and efficient use of natural resources,” said Dorota Haman, chair of the UF/IFAS department of agricultural and biological engineering. “Data-driven operations allow us to produce more with less by using optimal techniques and reducing waste. Agricultural and biological engineers are continuously working on these problems.”
Several faculty members from the agricultural and biological engineering department at the University of Florida were recently invited to attend the SmartAg International Symposium at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, which focused on future agricultural technologies.
“The mission of SmartAg is to create a platform that connects researchers, practitioners and policy makers to facilitate the development and application of existing and emerging smart technologies to enhance global agro-food systems,” Haman said.
Four faculty members in our department were invited to the symposium, Haman said.
Professor Thomas Burks, who primarily studies how machines and automation can improve productivity and profitability in the citrus industry, moderated a session on the challenges and opportunities for incorporating smart agriculture technologies.
“Smart ag is a very important topic that could open up new doors for funded research and converge technologies of robotics, precision agriculture and big data,” Burks said.
The symposium was also an opportunity for the UF/IFAS researchers to put their own innovations on display, such as new climate and weather monitoring and data analytics technologies that can help producers anticipate weather patterns’ impacts on their crops and respond effectively, said Clyde Fraisse, associate professor of agriculture and biological engineering.
This more efficient approach to growing food — called precision agriculture — translates real time data about weather, soil, pests and other factors into recommendations farmers can use to make decisions about when to plant, water, apply chemicals and more.
Another UF/IFAS presenter, Gerrit Hoogenboom, studies how farmers make these decisions and how new technologies can help make those decisions accessible, timely and sustainable. Hoogenboom is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and a preeminent scholar in the UF/IFAS Institute for Sustainable Food Systems.
“My presentation was mainly on the use of models and especially decision support tools for farmers,” Hoogenboom said. “We are currently exploring how we can develop better models by linking different modeling approaches, such as pest and disease models to crop models.”
All four scientists shared a key take-away from the symposium: To find solutions for global problems, scientists have to be able to collaborate with researchers who may be on the other side of the world.
“The symposium gave us an opportunity to exchange information, discuss needs for research and education in this area and establish connections with other scientists and professionals focusing on implementation of new technologies in agricultural systems” Haman said.