Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Author: jennbryant

IIPA awards first seed grants

By David Mitchell

UGA’s Institute for Integrative Precision Agriculture (IIPA) has awarded eight seed grants to fund initial research for projects at the convergence of agriculture, engineering, computing and other related areas of study.

The grants, the first of their kind from IIPA, an interdisciplinary research unit launched in early 2022, follow a strategic push by the university to improve its industry collaboration across fields of study and support foundational research to advance agriculture and economic development in the state of Georgia. The grants represent a focus within integrative precision agriculture to solve concrete challenges, ranging from lumber yields and food safety to broader issues like sustainability and mental health in the agriculture community.

“We are trying to be leaders in this space, and the biggest challenge is: How do you connect advances in technology with what is happening in the field?” said Jaime Camelio, professor and associate dean for research, innovation and entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering, and one of two interim co-directors of IIPA. “It’s happening in almost any industry, and technology is moving so fast. So, how do you take advantage of that to increase resources and productivity?”

Harald Scherm, also IIPA interim co-director, professor and department head of plant pathology in the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, named four specific goals by which projects were chosen: 1) as with other traditional seed grants, to identify projects that, upon generating initial data, were poised to submit large grant applications; 2) to fund outside-the-box ideas that were not receiving other funding but which could prove rewarding in the future; 3) to build community infrastructure with equipment that could be used across departments; and 4) to build relationships with industry.

Four projects that met these criteria stood out and were fully funded by the seed grant. Another four were partially funded with an emphasis on enabling equipment.

One fully funded project focused on smart forest harvesting operations. As an industry, forestry lags behind others from a technology perspective in the way it addresses issues such as supply chain, Scherm said. Already a challenge and exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, forestry was identified as an area of particular need.

For this project, researchers pose a simple but effective method for improving lumber payload efficiency. Using computer vision and image analysis of payloads, they hope to increase yields, lower costs and improve the overall supply chain, while also keeping an eye toward sustainability.

Another project will attempt to develop sensors that can monitor temperature, humidity and location of food supplies during transportation.

“Feeding the population is more than just producing more,” Scherm said. “There has been an increasing emphasis in the past five to 10 years on preventing losses, and this is a project we felt addressed that challenge.”

The project, he said, combined a signature area like food science with an emerging one like sensor communication in the College of Engineering.

Another project—one that meets the high-risk, high-reward criterion, according to Scherm—aims to develop synthetic microbiomes of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) for plant hosts in biofuel production. AMF’s dynamic nature means it runs the gamut from promoting plant growth to acting as a parasite, depending on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil.

By producing synthetic populations of AMF in cutting-edge microfluidic chambers, researchers hope to manipulate this fundamental symbiosis for the production of biofuel. If successful, this work could prove foundational for other similar plants and fungi.

The fourth fully-funded project addresses a less visible area of concern in the agriculture community but one of enormous importance. Farming, in particular, is a stressful occupation, and the stress affects farmers themselves as well as their families and farming-adjacent communities. Community stressors like high poverty or unemployment and personal ones like chronic illness or disability exacerbate these issues. The CDC has captured statistics in this domain with the Social Vulnerability Index, which gives each county a score of how vulnerable it is to effects of negative external events like natural disasters.

Using a big data approach, this project aims to provide real-time mapping of stress risk for agricultural communities in hopes of informing potential interventions. These would address challenges at a personal level while also, in theory, improving farming output.

Each project serves a strategic need for the university – promoting research and thought leadership in interdisciplinary areas of emphasis – as well as addressing, in some cases, an immediate societal need.

Explore a full list of projects, both fully- and partially-funded by IIPA’s seed grants, below:

  • Smart Forest Harvesting Operations: Using Artificial Intelligence to Improve Management and Logistics
    • Alicia Pedruzzi (PI), Chad Bolding (Co-PI), Joseph Conrad (Co-PI), Guoyu Lu (Co-PI)
  • Engineering Synthetic Communities of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) in Sorghum Biocolor for Biofuel Production
    • Jonathan Arnold (PI), Leidong Mao (Co-PI), Anny Chung (Co-PI)
  • Real-time Stress Risk Mapping for Agricultural Communities: The Precision Agriculture Stress Report (PASS) Initiative
    • Wesley Porter (PI), Anna Scheyett (Co-PI), Simerjeet Virk (Co-PI), Barry Croom (Co-PI), Leonardo Bastos (Co-PI)
  • A Precision Tracking and Tracing System in Food Supply Chain Through Ubiquitous Wireless Connectivity
    • Haijian Sun (PI), Wenzhan Song (Co-PI), Lilong Chai Chai (Co-PI), Abhinav Mishra (Co-PI)
  • Enhancing Research and Teaching Capabilities in Integrative Precision Agriculture with a Variable Rate Irrigation-Enabled Center Pivot
    • George Vellidis (PI), Wesley Porter, Simerjeet Virk
  • Artificial Intelligence-Assisted Harvest to Improve Cotton and Peanut Harvest Efficiency
    • Simerjeet Virk (PI), Glen Rains, Wesley Porter, George Vellidis, Guoyu Lu, Haijan Sun, Craig Ganssle, Bennie Branch, Josh Minor
  • Optimizing Controlled Environment Agriculture Using Automated Image Acquisition and Analysis
    • Marc van Iersel (PI), Mark Haidekker, Rhuanito Ferrarezi, Lynne Seymour
  • Development and Evaluation of a Precision Seed Metering System for Uniform Seed Singulation and Emergence
    • Wesley Porter (PI), Darian Landolt, Glen Rains, Scott Tubbs, Simerjeet Virk


Take Five with Faculty: Simer Virk

Assistant Professor Simer Virk grew up on a small family farm that ran on manual labor. Now a precision agriculture specialist at UGA-Tifton, Virk is passionate about getting the right technology into growers’ hands.


Tell us about your academic or career path. How did you get to your current position?

I did my undergraduate degree in agricultural engineering from a land-grant university in India and then moved to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies.

I earned a master’s in biosystems engineering from Auburn University and then took a job as a test engineer with a company in the Midwest that specializes in manufacturing large, high-clearance agricultural sprayers.

After working for couple years in the industry, I came to UGA for a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering. While pursuing my doctorate, I also worked as a research engineer in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences on the UGA Tifton campus where I gained more research and Extension experience in precision agriculture.

When I was finishing my doctorate, UGA CAES opened up a couple of precision agriculture positions with primary Extension responsibilities. I applied for one of the positions and was fortunate enough to be selected. So I started as an assistant professor and Extension precision ag specialist in this position in August 2020 and have been here since.

Why did you choose your field?

My primary research and Extension focus is in precision agriculture. I was introduced to precision agriculture during my master’s at Auburn, where I got to work with different types of agricultural technologies and machinery and saw the impact they were having on improving field and crop productivity. That really intrigued me, as I grew up on a small family farm in India where most of the farming operations were — and, in fact, some still are — performed by manual labor with no to minimal use of any machinery.

Learn more about the Georgia Peanut Tour in the field-to-jar series: “Breeding the best peanut,” “Good peanuts start from the ground up” and “Peanut protectors.”

I realized that I really enjoy working with ag technology and there are some good career opportunities for people with education and experience in precision agriculture. Since then, even during my work in the industry, I have been actively involved in this field and truly enjoy it every day.

What inspired you to join the faculty at CAES?

I came to UGA to pursue my Ph.D. and have been a part of CAES at UGA-Tifton since. One thing that I didn’t know before coming here is that CAES is one of the top colleges to pursue a degree in agriculture, and even more, a great place to conduct agriculture research and Extension work.

For me, the opportunity to work alongside some of the best researchers and scientists in the nation truly makes it a special place.

What is your proudest recent accomplishment?

2022 was a great year for our team, with many accomplishments, but I would say one of them is very special. I recently received a Junior Extension Specialist award from the Georgia Association of County Agricultural Agents (GACAA) at their annual meeting.

That was a proud moment, as county agents are our No. 1 clientele in Extension and being recognized by them gave me this sense of affirmation that I am on the right track and doing what’s needed as an Extension specialist.

What are you currently working on, and what is the end goal?

I am working on various projects in the precision agriculture space but all of them have a common goal, which is to evaluate current and new technologies in agriculture, and to share information on how and where they can be effectively used in our cropping systems to increase productivity and profitability.

One example is investigating the use of spray drones in agriculture, as it is a new technology in precision agriculture and there is lots of interest from growers lately regarding their suitability and effectiveness in applying pesticides to crops.

The end goal in most projects, including this one, is to share research-based information with the public to ensure effective technology implementation on their farm or operation.

What is something you’d most like the public to understand about your work?

My work in precision agriculture is focused on advancing the adoption and effective utilization of precision agriculture technologies by conducting relevant applied research and sharing that information with the public, especially growers, to help them make informed and data-driven decisions.

I work closely with both industry and growers to evaluate the suitability and benefits of new technologies in agriculture, specifically for row crop production in the Southeastern U.S.

How do you see precision agriculture technologies informing our future food systems?

Precision agriculture technologies are an integral and important part of our food systems today and will continue to be in the future. We are already starting to see the next generation of technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and automation being developed and implemented to solve complex challenges in agriculture today.

An automated robot detecting and killing weeds with a high-voltage precision laser in an agricultural field is just a small example of numerous technology solutions being implemented today.

Advancements in computing, hardware and data science in the future will further expedite the maturation and integration of such technology solutions in the food supply chain — from planting to the end consumer. Through these new technological advances in precision agriculture, I believe we can expect to see some major improvements in efficiency, quality and productivity in future food systems.

What is your favorite part about what you do?

My favorite part of my job is being able to work alongside Extension agents in helping growers with any technology related issues or conducting on-farm research to help answer specific questions. I always learn a lot working with agents and talking to growers and understanding their farming operations.

If you could do anything else, what would it be? 

Before my Ph.D., I almost enrolled in an MBA, as I think that people with both engineering and business degrees are really sharp and usually have more opportunities in their career.

I think I would either be working for an agricultural technology company or have my own business focused on developing and providing custom technology solutions.

What is something your colleagues or students might not know about you — hobbies, interests, secret talents? 

I don’t have any hidden talents or secrets. I guess even if I did, it wouldn’t be a secret because of how much I post about anything going on in my work and personal life on social media.

I do like being outdoors and enjoy working out and staying healthy. Outside work, I try to spend as much time as possible with my wife, Preet, and our 3-year-old daughter, Amber.

Institute for Integrative Precision Agriculture welcomes 3 new faculty

Author: Jake Strickland

UGA’s Institute for Integrative Precision Agriculture (IIPA), a new interdisciplinary research unit dedicated to the research and application of new technologies in agriculture, has made three new faculty hires. Leonardo Bastos, Lorena Lacerda and Guoyu Lu joined IIPA full time during Fall 2022, each contributing to the strategic mission of the institute to harness the power of technology and big data to sustainably provide for our planet’s growing population.

Bastos, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, joins IIPA as an assistant professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES) after working as a postdoctoral researcher at both Kansas State University and UGA. He specializes in agronomy with a focus on nitrogen management. Raised in Brazil and completing much of his graduate education in the midwestern United States, Bastos will apply his knowledge to Georgia’s cotton, corn, and peanut crops.

One of his goals is to develop and refine algorithms for crop sensing technologies that can monitor plant nitrogen stress from any distance and recommend profitable rates. This is especially important to prove that data are consistent, as farmers increasingly turn to drones and other remote sensors to collect crop information.

“Coming to UGA and being able to work with people from across departments and different areas of expertise is enriching,” Bastos said. “I think that’s one way for us to move the needle on precision agriculture, not just in Georgia but across the Southeast.”

Lacerda, assistant professor in Crop and Soil Sciences, earned her Ph.D. at UGA-Tifton and joins IIPA after completing a postdoctoral position at the University of Minnesota. Her research focus is developing integrative precision agricultural management systems for sustainable food and fiber production. This work includes research on remote sensing, crop yield prediction and variable rate technology for irrigation and fertilizer application.

Her goal is to develop tools that can be used by farmers, which can be challenging given the need to adapt technology to larger field setups.

“I am looking forward to potentially developing new technologies that can help the agricultural sector, especially in Georgia, make more informed decisions while also achieving a more efficient and sustainable crop production system,” Lacerda said.

Lu, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, and he joins IIPA after several years in both academic and industry positions, including work for the Ford Motor Company and ESPN. His research explores the applications of artificial intelligence, computer vision, machine learning, and robotics within agriculture, with several projects aimed at increasing agricultural efficiency.

After previously working closely with UGA researchers, joining IIPA seemed like a natural fit for Lu. Years in industry help him position his research to develop products sought out by industry leaders.

“One of the things that I’m most excited for in my new role is strengthening collaborations,” Lu said. “It’ll be great working with more people at UGA, so we can see how artificial intelligence might be able to enhance agricultural development.”

“The hiring of Drs. Bastos, Lacerda, and Lu represents the Institute’s desire to strengthen existing areas of excellence, while also adding new areas of expertise,” said IIPA interim Co-Director Harald Scherm, professor and department head of plant pathology in the CAES.

Jaime Camelio, professor and associate dean for research, innovation and entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering, also serves as IIPA interim co-director. The institute was founded last year to pull together UGA’s strengths in precision agriculture from across multiple academic and research units.

UGA has long led the way in this field, ranking among the top 20 universities in the world for precision agriculture by trade publication Precision Ag. IIPA expands the scope of UGA’s precision ag research by incorporating insights from fields as diverse as engineering, plant and animal genomics, forestry and others.