By Clint Thompson
The future of research at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) focuses on artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in agriculture. UF/IFAS uses this argument when discussing funding for new faculty positions, says Rob Gilbert, interim senior vice president at UF/IFAS.
“We’re able to get 15 faculty at IFAS, and part of the argument was that we really have a greater potential for growth in this area,” Gilbert said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for us in new areas.”
Much of that growth focuses on the implementation of mechanical harvesters and suppressing the need for foreign labor sources through the H-2A process. Some commercialized harvesters are already being utilized, but more advancements are required if the current crop of Florida producers are to remain sustainable.
“We hear that all the time across the state, and this intersects with the plant breeding program. If we’re going to have mechanical harvesters, that may require new types of varieties that are well suited for that without being damaged or that are mature at the same time,” Gilbert said. “This is where we see this new AI Center, having faculty that work in the engineering space collaborate with those who work in the plant breeding space together, talking about, what are your criteria for the new crop? What is the latest design on the machines that we can do? How can we integrate AI in with machine vision, being able to harvest efficiently? They can be working together to achieve that.”
UF/IFAS is planning to construct a 19,000-square-foot AI hub at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) in Balm, Florida, about 25 miles southeast of Tampa. Plans include a state-of-the art research shop, equipped with everything needed to design and build robotic technologies for agriculture.