Indian-American researchers at U. of I. lead multimillion dollar futuristic farm project  

Professor Girish Ghowdhary, University of Illinois. Photo:
Vikram Adve. Photo:
Madhu Khanna Photo:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in late May that it is funding a new collaboration between two institutes and a research center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that will create an integrated farm of the future in the U.S. Midwest. Leading Indian-Americans are part of this initiative, Girish Chowdhary, Vikram Adve and Madhu Khanna.

Titled “I-FARM: Illinois Farming and Regenerative Management,” this $3.9 million, three-year project is funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

The Illinois-led study will develop an 80-acre agricultural testbed, where commodity crops (corn and soybean) and livestock are farmed using synergistic and sustainable practices, a May 26, 2022, press release from University of Illinois said.


“We will accelerate creation, maturation, and adoption of new management technologies that are fundamentally more sustainable, profitable, affordable, and scale-neutral. The new practices will be enabled by maturing digital agriculture technologies developed in wide-ranging research efforts at the University of Illinois,” Primary Investigator Girish Chowdhary, associate professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering and Computer Science, is quoted saying in the press release.

NIFA’s “Farm of the Future” proposal process was extremely competitive, and only one was awarded from across the nation, said Co-Investigator and Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA) Co-Director Vikram Adve, the Donald B.Gillies Professor of Computer Science.

“This grant is a major endorsement of our growing strengths in digital age,” Adve said.

The I-FARM is a unique partnership between CDA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at the U of I.

Over three years, the I-FARM testbed will feature improved precision farming with remote sensing; new under-canopy autonomous robotic solutions for cover-crop planting, variable-rate input applications, and mechanical weeding; and artificial intelligence-enabled remote sensing for animal health prediction, nutrient quantification, and soil health.

“With the data gleaned from this project, the MyFarm app will provide farmers with an integrated dashboard that can be customized to the needs of their farm,” Chowdhary said. “Our focus on scale-neutral technologies can provide a solution to the worsening labor crisis for small farms and improve the sustainability of large and spatially heterogeneous farms.”

The I-FARM team will also help the ag industry create new data-driven products and services for farmers, and an Industry Advisory Board and a Farmer Advisory Board will help the optimize impact on farming practices.

“Together, this integrated suite of solutions will lead to sustainable ways of meeting growing demand for agriculture in a changing climate,” said Co-PI and iSEE Interim Director Madhu Khanna, the ACES Distinguished Professor of Agricultural & Consumer Economics. “The CDA, iSEE, and NCSA built the strongest research proposal by reaching across disciplines and bringing together expertise from all over the University of Illinois — from computer science to economics to crop science and animal science, we are exploring as many aspects as possible as we seek to build a farm of the future.



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