New initiative advances agricultural technology education

As agriculture and food production reach high-tech heights and resources such as water become scarcer, the country will increasingly depend on the innovative solutions of its brightest minds.

A new initiative at UC Merced aims to put today’s students at the forefront of the food, energy, and water (FEW) nexus to help create answers to the world’s most pressing concerns. ‘coming.

AgTechfunded by a Hispanic Institutions Grant serving the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), is a new faculty-led educational effort Sun Jian-Qiao, Yang Quan Chen and Theofanis Tsoulouhas.

This project is one of many new efforts to increase the use of technology to improve agricultural operations,” said School of Engineering Dean Mark Matsumoto. He mentioned several recent FEW projects related to sustainability, such as Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery and agricultural waste utilization through low-cost activated carbon produced from local biochar, both of which came about through NIFA grants to Professors Stefano Carpin and Gerardo Diaz, and an autonomous remote sensing project for the managing the economic and environmental consequences of salinity-affected waterways, led by Professor Joshua Viers.

Professor Chen, right, and student Brendan Smith work with drones.Sun and Chen teach advanced mechanical engineering principles to enable undergraduate students to design solutions, while Tsoulouhas teaches the fundamentals of entrepreneurship to help them start their own businesses.

You actually need a lot of education to be a successful farmer these days,” Sun said. “The days of just putting water in the fields are long behind us.”

Advanced technologies, including computers, electronics, communications, energy and water monitors and sensors, and unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – have fundamentally changed the agricultural and food industries. Growing concerns about public health and climate change mean greater emphasis on precision farming applications that help farmers reduce their footprint, manage resources responsibly and maximize production .

Drones are essential to agriculture today,” Chen said. “These are 2.0 tractors. Everyone needs it.

Professor Tsoulouhas, centerFor example, drones can be used to monitor soil and crop health and moisture levels, provide precision seed or fertilizer sprays, play acoustic bird deterrents that don’t disturb humans, release “biological enemies” that will eat pests rather than spray. pesticides, and may even be small enough to act as pollinators.

Drones could provide farmers with an improved workforce, complementing human workers.

Between mechanical engineering and management, we hope to teach students and inspire them to earn money through FEW-related businesses,” said Sun who, like Chen, is in engineering school. “We are very excited to work across disciplines to advance research, education and practical applications. »

Tsoulouhas, professor of finance at School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Artsdevelops programs in entrepreneurship, management, finance and economics to teach students the skills needed for modern agriculture so they can build new agricultural technology businesses and service businesses in the San Valley Joaquin.

We want to encourage entrepreneurship and give them a better understanding of practical requirements such as market analyses, developing business plans, managing innovation and change, financing entrepreneurial ventures , branding and marketing, and leadership skills,” he said. “I plan to train students in the use of innovation and entrepreneurship tools, with a focus on food processing, which is of particular importance in our region.

Professors have already started integrating special subjects into their engineering and management courses. Engineering students in specific classes will acquire more knowledge about mechatronics and mechanics; vibration and control of precision agricultural machinery and machinery; intelligent agriculture and food processing systems; sensors for surveying crop fields; drone flight control; data retrieval and processing; data-driven modeling and optimization; and cloud storage and computing.

The $275,000 grant will support five or six undergraduate scholarship students for six weeks each summer, during which they will gain additional exposure to cutting-edge technologies in today’s agriculture and food industries, and will be introduced to major food-related businesses in the region to gain a better understanding of how these technologies are applied today and could be in the future.

One of the first public launches of this new effort took place last week at the Center for Information and Technology Research for the Benefit of Society (CITRIS) second annual agricultural technology fair. Chen spoke about the future of agro-technology research and #UAS4STEM educational ecosystem at UC Merced.

A week later, the deadline for applications for the summer scholarships, which pay $2,000 per student, has closed, Sun said.