WSU to lead national AI research institute for agriculture
With a new $20 million federal grant, Washington State University will lead a multi-institutional research institute to develop artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to tackle some of agriculture’s biggest challenges related to labor, water, weather and climate change.
The new institute is one of 11 launched by the National Science Foundation and among two funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture in 2021. It’s called the AgAID Institute, which is short for USDA-NIFA Institute for Agricultural AI for Transforming Workforce and Decision Support.
While drones equipped with high-resolution cameras are well suited for observing plant development from far above, satellites could be the next leap ahead for farmers seeking to monitor their crops over large or scattered plots.
Sindhuja Sankaran, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, and her team arrived at these conclusions as a part of their paper published in Computers and Electronics in Agriculture last month.
“When breeders have multiple location trials scattered across a large area to study the genotype-environment interactions, they need to go to each plot, take measurements, and record them in order to conduct phenotyping trials,” Sankaran said. “Most of their time is spent traveling, rather than collecting data. We felt that if it was possible to use high-resolution satellite imagery to make these observations, data could be captured in a much more efficient way.” continue reading the article…
If potato farmers worry about storage losses, they might want to call “Rotbusters.”That’s the name Sindhuja Sankaran uses to explain her work using sensors to detect storage diseases like pythium and soft rot at early stages, even before their symptoms become visible.
Sankaran is an associate professor in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering.
She says the sensors “smell” differences in potatoes that a disease emits. For example, a farmer might use a portable sensor to scan different areas of his potato storage. If the sensor detects a certain marker compound produced by rot or another disease, it triggers an alarm. That allows farmers to address the problem before it grows…
Now being piloted at WSU, a 12-week fellowship program is the first of its kind to be offered through CGIAR, formerly known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Sponsored by the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service and modeled on the USDA’s well-established Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, the new program brings early and mid-career researchers from five CGIAR centers around the globe to WSU, promoting agricultural productivity, food security, and economic growth through collaborative research.
Milton Valencia joined the lab of Sindhuja Sankaran, a Biological Systems Engineering researcher studying how sensor technology can aid plant breeding, crop research, and precision agriculture. “CGIAR Borlaug Fellowships are a starting point for international collaboration,” said Sankaran. “We’re learning from Milton, and he is learning from us.”
Prospective fellows are chosen for their research interests, achievements and potential, then recruited and matched with mentors by WSU’s Office of International Programs. Mentors later make a return visit to their fellow’s home country to help foster continuing discoveries. “Visiting fellows become part of the scientific community on campus,” said Colleen Taugher, Associate Director for Global Research & Engagement at WSU. “Through the CGIAR Fellowship program, we’ve brought some very promising scientists to WSU and are expecting strong outcomes.”
WSU researchers are using satellites and drones to search for better wheat varieties to feed a growing world. The team launched a new project this spring, developing techniques that allow satellites and drones to identify and study wheat varieties from overhead. This research is funded by a USDA-NIFA grant.
The team looks to speed up research toward identifying better, more productive wheat varieties. If successful it will give growers powerful new tools to improve farming. Wheat currently feeds more than 1/3rd of the human population and is grown on more acres than any other crop. To meet the growing worldwide demand and stay ahead of pests, pathogens and a changing environment, wheat breeders strive to develop improved varieties. Phenotyping (measuring the way plant genes are expressed physically) allows selection of the best plants to breed for improved yield, grain quality and disease resistance. Machines can sense crop traits faster. With modern satellite imagery matched together with drones, visual and infrared imagery can be collected from wheat plots. Drone cameras can collect data with the hope that this matching process will enable identification of wheat varieties from orbit.
Part of the project’s challenge is to learn whether wheat varieties and their physical characteristics can be differentiated by their spectral data. “Sensors are getting better every day,” said team member Sindhuja Sankaran, an associate professor and sensor technology researcher at WSU’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering. “As resolution increases and camera costs drop, we have more powerful tools to sense how crops are performing.” Improved sensors will help to speed up the selection of new varieties, as well as help predict yields, monitor crop performance and protect plants from drought.
How does artificial intelligence-powered precision farming affect food sustainability?
This is a question that Filling Space.com asked their panel of experts, including Sindhuja Sankaran, an Agricultural Automation Engineering specialist from Washington State University’s Biological Systems Engineering Department.
Sankaran says, “For us, artificial intelligence serves as a key tool that assists in the application of sensor technology for phenotyping applications. Given the natural variability in plants, the thousands of crop varieties evaluated, and advancements in sensor technology (e.g. hyperspectral imaging system), it is impossible to identify patterns and evaluate plant traits without the application of artificial intelligence techniques… we use these methods to contribute to machine-guided informed selection of varieties, thus contributing to sustainability.”
Faculty and Graduate Students from Biological Systems Engineering attended the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) 2018 Annual Meeting. The event took place July 29, 2018 – August 01, 2018 in Detroit Michigan.
BSE Faculty included Lav Khot, Troy Peters, Juming Tang, Manoj Karkee, Sindhuja Sankaran, and Qin Zhang.
WSU alumnus Dr. Norman Scott was also in attendance.
In addition, BSE Master’s student Kapil Khanal (advised by BSE faculty member Dr. Manoj Karkee) won the first place Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Award for his research titled “Red Raspberry Bundling and Taping Mechanism.”
More information on the Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Award can be found on the ASABE Webiste
Chongyuan Zhang, a Graduate Assistant in Sindhuja Sankaran’s group received the 2018 Ann Chittenden Holland Master’s Thesis Award for Graduate Student Excellence at the 2018 WSU Graduate Student Evening of Excellence.
Congratulations to Chongyuan and Dr. Sankaran for this accomplishment!
Three local experts discussed how local governments use drones for science and public safety, as well as issues recreational users should keep in mind when operating on the Palouse on Tuesday. [ read full article at the dailyevergreen.com ]
Seven research teams at Washington State University will enhance the competitiveness of Northwest crops by fighting devastating diseases and advancing sustainable agriculture, thanks to more than $1.5 million in Specialty Crop Block Grant funds from the Washington State and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture.
To support Washington’s $3 billion apple and pear industry, its $734 million potato industry, and other important crops like fresh strawberries, cut peonies and cider apples, WSU crop scientists, engineers, plant pathologists, economists and other specialists will join forces.
Enhanced nutrients for sustainable farming
Specialty crop farmers commonly use manure to fertilize their soils. But manure can be bulky, costly to transport, and may also bring pathogens, weed seeds and a poor balance of nutrients for some crops.
Pius Ndegwa, associate professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, and WSU researchers will investigate the economic, agronomic and food safety benefits of concentrating manure and compost. Pelleting and blending manure with other products, such as canola or fish meals, could concentrate nutrients, kill pathogens and weed seeds, and make transport easier.
New tech to stop potato storage losses
Washington is a major potato producer, yet storage losses after harvest can ruin up to 6 percent of the annual crop.
Researchers Sindhuja Sankaran and Lav Khot, both in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering, partnering with Brenda Schroeder of the University of Idaho Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology, will research new ion mobile spectrometry and nanofiber chemical sensor technologies to detect storage diseases like pythium and soft rot at early stages. Growers will be able to better manage bulk storage and reduce losses through early processing. The technology could also be adapted for other specialty crops, like onions.