Speaker Bios

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Yiannis Ampatzidis
Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida
Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis leads a research and extension precision agriculture engineering program at the University of Florida’s Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) in Immokalee, Florida. His current research focuses on mechanical harvesting of specialty crops, mechatronics, artificial intelligence, machine vision, precision agriculture, smart machines (e.g., smart spraying technologies), UAVs, and machine systems.
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Daniël Berckmans
Professor Emeritus of Bioscience Engineering, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium
Professor Berckmans is widely considered as one of the pioneers in the area of precision livestock monitoring and his work with over 350 publications has had a worldwide impact. His research focus is on real time monitoring of health and wellbeing of individual humans and animals. He and his research team have developed or co-developed 17 products and hold 20 patents. Professor Berkmans has co-founded two companies (BioRICS NV and Soundtalks NV), is a member of the Research Council of the World Farmers Organization, and an Adjunct Distinguished Professor at the University of Tennessee.
Jessica Brim
Director of Food Safety, Lewis Taylor Farms
Lewis Taylor Farms is one of the largest privately owned vegetable and greenhouse operations in the Southeast. Purchased from their families in 1985 Bill Brim and Ed Walker set out to change the business as they knew it. In 1989 they built the first greenhouses and 2 years later they began growing produce. After 4 years they built their first of two packing facilities. Now over 80 years later Lewis Taylor Farms grows more than 6500 acres of produce each year. They have continued to grow and add to their greenhouse operation with currently 81 greenhouses at just under 900,000 sq ft of growing space as well as 6 pivots holding used to grow 80 million pine seedlings each year.
Karen Burg
Vice President for Research, University of Georgia
Dr. Karen Burg is the Harbor Lights Chair and Professor of Small Animal Medicine & Surgery and the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia. Karen earned her BS degree in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University and MS and PhD degrees in bioengineering from Clemson University. She subsequently completed a tissue engineering postdoctoral fellowship at Carolinas Medical Center. Karen served as interim vice provost and dean of the Graduate School at Clemson University from 2011 to 2014, and interim vice provost for research and innovation from 2007 to 2011. Karen subsequently served as vice president for research and professor of chemical engineering at Kansas State University from 2014 to 2016. Technologies from her team's research serve as the basis for a cancer diagnostics company which has garnered multiple economic development awards for impact in facilitating personalized cancer therapies through 3D cellular systems. Honors to Karen include a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, recognition as a Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s TR100 Young Innovator, an American Council on Education Fellow, a National Academy of Inventors Fellow, an International Union of Societies for Biomaterials Science and Engineering Fellow, a US Department of Defense Era of Hope Scholar, an American Association for the Advancement of Science-Lemelson Invention Ambassador and an American Association for the Advancement of Science-Fellow. Most recently, Karen was named by President Biden as one of fifteen recipients of the 2021 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
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Stefan Caspari
Senior Vice President and General Manager, Grain & Protein, AGCO
In his current position, Mr. Caspari leads the global operations, product management, engineering and commercial activities of AGCO’s Grain & Protein division. His priorities include establishing leadership in innovative, smart and reliable grain and protein solutions supporting food security, sustainability and animal welfare.
Karen Christensen
Karen Christensen
Senior Director, Animal Welfare, Tyson Foods
At Tyson Foods, Dr. Christensen is responsible for the well-being of broilers, turkeys, hogs and cattle. Her vision is for Tyson Foods to be the leader in animal welfare through a commitment grounded in compassionate care based on sound science. She has served on the Board of Directors for PAACO, the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization, since 2007. She serves as the chair of the Training and Education Committee and the chair of the Poultry Science Association Welfare Committee.
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Yafit Cohen
Researcher, The Volcani Center, Israeli Agricultural Research Organization
Dr. Cohen’s research focuses on fusion of thermal and hyperspectral imagery for monitoring and mapping water status in various crops and orchards, spatio-spectral analysis of thermal and hyperspectral imagery for management zones delineation, and the effect of precision irrigation on yield parameters and water use efficiency in vineyards, cotton, and peach production.
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Jen Erdmann
Director of Grants, Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA)
With over 20 years of grants experience, Dr. Erdmann leads the Grants Division at GDA, where she has served as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) Coordinator for the past eight years. In this role, she oversees a grants team with a varied portfolio of agreements from the EPA, the FDA, and USDA, while staying actively involved in the ongoing marketing efforts of the Georgia Grown program. An avid horticulturalist, she also serves as an Adjunct Instructor of Environmental Horticulture at Chattahoochee Technical College.
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John Fulton
Professor of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Dr. Fulton’s research and extension programs focus on machinery automation and use of spatial data to improve the farm business and in-season decisions with specialization on developing and evaluating technology or automated components related to application equipment to more accurately place and meet site-specific crop and soil needs. Dr. Fulton currently serves as the President of the International Society of Precision Agriculture.
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Athanasios (Sakis) Gertsis
Professor, Perrotis College, Greece
Dr. Gertsis’ current areas of research concentrate on innovative crop production systems in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum, focusing on sustainable environmental management systems and materials used through Low Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) and precision agriculture concepts. He has been utilizing UAVs in innovative ways to implement these concepts. Dr. Gertsis leads the MSc in Sustainable Agriculture & Management program that is offered by Perrotis College.
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Kater Hake
Former Vice President, Agricultural & Environmental Research, Cotton Incorporated
Until his recent retirement, Dr. Kater Hake was the Vice President of Agricultural & Environmental Research at Cotton Incorporated. In this role, Hake was responsible for the cotton production research program, and led a team of eight scientists who develop and support innovative problem-solving research to increase the profitability and sustainability of cotton farming in the U.S.
Krysta Harden
Board of Directors, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and President and CEO, US Dairy Export Council (USDEC)
Krysta Harden leverages experience with agriculture, sustainability, food policy and the federal government to help fulfill USDEC’s mission to promote dairy exports and enrich the well-being of people, communities and the planet. She joined the FFAR Board of Directors in 2021 where she guides strategy and organizational governance.
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Jacqueline Heard
Founder and CEO, Enko
Founded in 2017 by Dr. Jacqueline Heard, Enko designs safe and sustainable solutions to problems ranging from pest resistance to new diseases by applying the latest drug discovery and development approaches from pharma to plants. Enko’s ENKOMPASS™ Platform, combines DNA-encoded library screening, machine learning, and structure based design to find novel modes of action to control weeds and other crop pests far more quickly than traditional R&D methods. Enko’s pioneering approach aims to bring effective, earth-friendly solutions for crop production to farmers worldwide while setting new industry standards in safety, sustainability, and environmental impact. Dr. Heard recently spoke in Davos at the 2023 World Economic Forum regarding scaling up multi-stakeholder adaptation with an eye to climate change. Enko is backed by a large group of investors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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S. Jack Hu
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, University of Georgia
Dr. S. Jack Hu was appointed Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost in 2019. In this role, he oversees instruction, research, public service and outreach, and information technology at the University of Georgia. The vice presidents of these four areas, the deans of UGA’s 18 schools and colleges, and the campus dean of the Augusta University/UGA Medical Partnership report to him. Prior to his appointment at UGA, he was Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan. Dr. Hu is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
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Brian Kelley
Founder and CEO, Ag Technologies and Vantage Southeast
Farming has been a part of Brian Kelley’s life for as long as he can remember. He began his career in agriculture scouting and harvesting cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and other crops in and around Dooly County, Georgia. In 2003, he founded Ag Technologies LLC to bring a complete package of precision ag equipment and services to farmers in the Southeast. Ag Technologies and Vantage Southeast provide farmers, agronomists, retailers, co-ops and local OEM dealers with precision agriculture expertise for the entire farm. Their solutions are brand-agnostic and focus on optimizing the efficiency of farm equipment, seed or chemical use, and support a hassle-free experience for farmers and their service providers implanting advanced technology solutions.
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Lauren Lazaro
Senior Agronomist (Weed Science), Blue River Technology
Blue River Technology is a pioneer in the development of intelligent machinery which use computer vision, machine learning, and robotics. The company is best known for its See & Spray™ technology which allows growers to manage crops at the plant-by-plant level. Dr. Lazaro focuses on coordination of Blue River’s university cooperator network and long-term integrated weed management research. Until recently, she was an Assistant Professor of Weed Science at LSU where her research focused on integrated weed management, weed ecology/biology, herbicide resistance, and the use of harvest weed seed control. Dr. Lazaro is active within the Weed Science community and serves in various capacities in both the WSSA and SWSS societies.
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Mark Ledebuhr
Principal Consultant, Application Insight LLC.
Mark is a technology evangelist with a passion for helping client teams find innovative solutions that are effective and practical. He has over twenty years of experience in fluid metering and spray application design. He has worked with universities, local, state, and federal governments, private corporations, and agriculturists large and small all around the world. Mark currently chairs the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Application Systems committee, sits on the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Pesticide systems (E35) committee, is a member of American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators (AAPSE), and the Pesticide Stewardship Alliance (TPSA).
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Donald Leo
Dean and UGA Foundation Professor in Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Georgia
Dr. Leo is the first permanent dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. He assumed the position July 1, 2013. Before joining UGA, Dr. Leo served as a professor of mechanical engineering and vice president and executive director of the National Capital Region operations of Virginia Tech. His area of expertise is smart materials. Under his leadership, enrollment in the College of Engineering has grown from under 700 to nearly 3000 students and faculty numbers have grown from under 50 to nearly 100.
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Steve Li
Associate Professor and Weed Science Extension Specialist, Auburn University
Dr. Li provides Alabama growers with latest information regarding weed management, herbicide selection and usage. He educates growers, chemical dealers and other stake holders about application techniques, spray drift management and other herbicide related issues. Most recently, Dr. Li has become the Southeast’s leader in using UAVs for applying herbicides to field crops. He regularly conducts workshops on this technology for a wide range of audiences.
Headshot of Brenda Valeska Ortiz from Headshots taken on August 30, 2022.
Brenda Ortiz
Professor and Extension Precision Agriculture Specialist, Auburn University
Dr. Ortiz has 20+ years of experience implementing site-specific management strategies to increase crop productivity, reduce risk of yield losses, and protect the environment. She has conducted research and extension projects that cover multiple areas: precision irrigation, site-specific nutrient management, crop management adaptation strategies to climate variability and change, AI applications to irrigation and peanut maturity, site-specific management of pest and diseases, evaluation of novel technologies on planters, as well as management zone delineation. Dr. Ortiz currently serves as the Secretary of the International Society of Precision Agriculture.
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Lawton Pearson
Owner, Pearson Farm
For more than 135 years, the land known as Pearson Farm has supported the growth of authentic Georgia-grown peaches and pecans as well as the growth of the five generations of family that pioneered it. The core elements remain the same today-good soil, hard work, honest dealings, family, and faith. Lawton and his wife Lanier have recently taken on the day-to-day management of Pearson Farm’s production, retail and mail-order sales.
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Nick Place
Dean and Director, College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CAES), University of Georgia
Dr. Place joined the University of Georgia as Dean and Director of CAES in January 2021. Prior to that, he served as Dean and Director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service for eight years. At UGA, Dr. Place is a faculty member in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication. His scholarship focuses on teaching and learning along with domestic and international extension services and their role in youth, community and economic development. He is the reigning champion of the Deans’ Milking Competition at Sunbelt Expo.
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Steven Thomson
National Program Leader, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture
Dr. Thomson serves as National Program Leader for projects and programs that focus on engineering processes that improve systems relevant to agriculture. He supports research, education, and extension activities in these areas and engages Universities, other federal agencies, and industry to provide national leadership in Capacity and Competitive Grant programs. Dr. Thomson has background in aerial application of crop protection materials, irrigation management, crop modeling, decision support systems, sensor systems and electronics, remote sensing, unmanned aerial systems, and general precision ag technologies and has worked in research, extension, and instruction as faculty member at Virginia Tech and as Research Lead Scientist with the USDA ARS.
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Brandon Wade
Plant Manager, Alma Nursery & Berry Farms
Alma Nursery & Berry Farms is a small fruits nursery and blueberry farm located in Alma, Georgia. Wade has served on the Georgia Farm Bureau Young Farmers state committee as well as the Georgia Farm Bureau fruit commodity committee. Wade holds a degree in agriculture with applied economics from the University of Georgia and is the president of the Georgia Blueberry Growers Association.
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David Wicker
Vice President of Live Operations, Fieldale Farms Corporation
Dr. Wicker directs the activities of the Live Operations Group of Fieldale Farms to produce more than 3.2 million broilers per week. The Group has seven company farms, two feed mills, three hatcheries, and 450 contract producers in Georgia and South Carolina to produce these broilers.
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Martin Zuidhof
Professor of Precision Feeding & Poultry Systems Modeling, University of Alberta, Canada
Dr. Zuidhof has been studying Broiler Breeders for over 25 years. His team developed and patented a precision feeding system to feed each bird the right amount of feed at the right time. In addition to its commercial potential, the system doubles as one of the best poultry research tools in the world. Dr. Zuidhof is an academic leader of the Poultry Research Centre (PRC), a unique collaboration between the University of Alberta, governments, and the poultry industry. The PRC is committed to excellence and relevance in research, and plays an important role training the next generation of leaders in the poultry industry.