Digital Agri Workshop Highlights Radical Collaborations

06-11-2019    19:37   |    Cornell Cals

The U.S.---The third annual Cornell Digital Agriculture workshop, Oct. 30 in the Statler Hotel, brought together stakeholders across disciplines to solve the biggest problems in agriculture and food systems. Above, Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate professor of horticulture, examines grapes growing at the Cornell Orchards in Lansing, New York.

For grape growers, accurately predicting each season’s yield is key to a successful harvest. Underpredict, and you won’t have enough labor on hand or you’ll run out of storage space; overpredict, and you could fall through on promises to your distributors.

Two Cornell researchers are tackling the age-old problem using 21st century tools: inexpensive, touch-sensitive soft robots that can help growers predict yield and detect fungal threats.

Justine Vanden Heuvel, associate professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), researches strategies to help grape growers improve their environmental and economic sustainability. Kirstin Petersen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, studies bio-inspired and soft robotics.

The researchers were brought together through the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA), which was founded in 2017 for the purpose of initiating these kinds of radical collaborations across disciplines to solve the biggest problems in agriculture and food systems.

Petersen and Vanden Heuvel’s collaboration was one of six digital agricultural projects funded by an initial round of USDA Hatch grants in 2017. Another nine projects were funded in 2019 through the CIDA Research Innovation Fund. All of the Cornell researchers, along with industry, nonprofit and governmental stakeholders, will come together on Oct. 30 for the Third Annual CIDA Digital Agriculture Workshop.

Tim Vanini ’91, managing director of CIDA, said the initiative hopes to address the factors that will enable our global food systems to feed 10 billion people by 2050. That includes improving efficiency and sustainability; mitigating environmental impacts; reducing food waste; protecting food safety; and possibly developing new socioeconomic models.

“Agriculture is the last major industry sector to move into the digital age,” Vanini said. “We need professors from software programming and design, robotics and system analytics to be brought into the agricultural system, and we need those people partnered with the plant and soil scientists, entomologists, pathologists and food safety experts who know what the problems are and where solutions need to be deployed.”

With support from USDA funding, CIDA awards grants to promising digital agriculture projects as seed money, providing resources for researchers to begin growing their projects from a seed of inspiration, in the hope that some of the projects will bear fruit.

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Photo by Chris Kitchen/Cornell University

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