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.