Ensuring food, energy, and water security is a societal grand challenge. By 2050, the US population is estimated to grow from 330 million to 400 million, and the world population from 7.8 billion to 9.7 billion, requiring a 70% increase in global food production. Current agricultural practices account for 70% of global water use, and energy use accounts for the largest cost on a farm. Furthermore, the current inefficient use of agrochemicals is altering Earth’s ecosystems. With finite arable land, water, and energy resources, there is a critical need for new technologies and innovations to improve the efficiency of food production. These challenges provide a unique opportunity for scientists, engineers, practitioners, and other stakeholders to come together and develop new technologies and solutions that would not be realized without a convergent approach. The NSF Engineering Research Center for the Internet of Things for Precision Agriculture (IoT4Ag) unites faculty and students from the University of Pennsylvania, Purdue University, the University of California at Merced, and the University of Florida with government and industry partners, establishing a convergence of expertise in agronomy, agricultural engineering, socio-economics, environmental science, and the science and engineering of physical and cyber-physical systems needed to transform agriculture. The goal of this center is to ensure food, energy, and water security by advancing technology to increase crop production while minimizing the use of energy and water resources and the impact of agricultural practices on the environment. To realize this mission, IoT4Ag will create and translate to practice Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for precision agriculture and train an educated and diverse workforce that will address the societal grand challenge of food, energy, and water security for decades to come. IoT4Ag institutions are located in regions of the United States of intense agricultural production and represent the diversity of both crops and agricultural environments across the country. The coverage of these diverse geographical locations will ensure that a broad range of crop types will benefit from the research, education, and training of IoT4Ag, leading to the successful transformation of agricultural practices for a sustainable and secure future.
The IoT4Ag team will investigate how the complex systems of plant and environmental variables affect crop yield and resilience. To accomplish this task, center researchers will focus on the development of low-cost sensor technologies to measure these variables at relevant spatial and temporal scales. To utilize these sensors and the data collected, IoT4Ag will develop agriculture-specific communication technologies that relay data from sensors to both relevant farming equipment and to the cloud by autonomous aerial and ground-based robots equipped to be deployed at field scale. Data-driven models will capture plant physiology, soil properties and dynamics, historical weather trends and future forecasts, management practice variations, and socio-economic trends to provide farmers the situational awareness necessary for smart agricultural intervention and improved outcomes. Through the research and development of these proposed technologies and solutions, IoT4Ag will educate a diverse workforce of pre-college students, community college students, university students, and agriculture professionals through audience-specific lessons and hands-on classroom, laboratory, and field activities. These activities will arm this new workforce with the strong science and engineering knowledge to enable precision agriculture solutions. IoT4Ag will recruit, retain, and educate diverse participants and create a culture of inclusion through engagement, participation, and cohesion of a broad community of students, faculty, and professionals. This vibrant innovation ecosystem will bring together academic, government, and industry partners with the end-user farming community to ensure the rapid translation of IoT4Ag practices and technologies into commercial products and economic impact. Through all of these described activities, IoT4Ag will enable the transformation of agriculture, producing more crops for every drop of water or Joule of energy to realize a food, energy, and water-secure future for the United States.