The National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes program awarded $20 million to the Center for Digital Agriculture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for the new Artificial Intelligence for Future Agricultural Resilience, Management, and Sustainability (AIFARMS) Institute. The program, a joint effort between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture was created in response to the White House’s 2019 update to the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, which aims to provide support for AI research that focuses on impacting and improving society.
The AIFARMS institute is led by Vikram Adve, principal investigator and Donald B. Gillies Professor of Computer Science at Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering. “I’m excited and humbled to be leading the AIFARMS Institute. Illinois and our partner institutions are world leaders in the areas of computer science, artificial intelligence, and agriculture research, and these strengths are reflected in the breadth and depth of the AIFARMS team,” says Adve. “By fostering close collaborations between these researchers, and by growing and diversifying a workforce skilled in digital agriculture, we have an exciting opportunity to help address some of the most daunting challenges faced by world agriculture today.”
Adve will work alongside 40 researchers from UIUC, University of Chicago, the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center, Michigan State University, Tuskegee University, USDA Agricultural Research Service, and Argonne National Laboratory to explore foundational AI goals and innovative uses of AI to tackle important challenges in agriculture. At AIFARMS, world-class scientists, Ph.D. students, postdoctoral researchers, extension specialists, and diverse industry partners will come together to address major agricultural challenges such as labor constraints, animal health and welfare, environmental crop resilience, and soil health.
AIFARMS will help develop a prototype autonomous “farm of the future,” anticipating a world in which low-cost AI-driven systems enable breeders and farmers to achieve large improvements in yields and profitability with minimal or even positive environmental impacts. The institute combines deep research expertise with strong education and outreach programs in digital agriculture to grow a diverse workforce with AI skills, reach rural and other underserved populations, and create a global clearinghouse to foster community-wide collaboration in AI-driven agricultural research.
AIFARMS will be one of the flagship projects within the Center for Digital Agriculture, founded in 2018 at Illinois and co-directed by Adve and Professor of Crop Sciences, Matthew Hudson. AIFARMS is aligned with Illinois’ mission of enhancing lives through education, discovery, and engagement, and is fully committed to ensuring that all communities benefit from emerging technologies through active outreach efforts. “AIFARMS is exactly what we mean when we talk about delivering on the land-grant research university mission in the 21st century,” says Chancellor Robert J. Jones, himself a distinguished crop sciences researcher. “Bridging the enormous potential of artificial intelligence with the science, engineering, and practice of agriculture offers the opportunity to solve some of the most critical challenges of our generation on a global scale. We’re very proud to be chosen by NSF as the home for this center that we truly believe will change the world’s agricultural future.”
Key Research Thrusts
The Center for Digital Agriculture is a multidisciplinary effort at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign between the Grainger College of Engineering, the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Institute for Genomic Biology that leverages Illinois’ historic land-grant pillars of agriculture and engineering to shape the future of the agriculture industry. The center brings together researchers, educators, industries, and agricultural producers to innovate technology to transform how we feed and support a growing global population. CDA develops and supports novel experimental research facilities, such as the autonomous “farm of the future,” where researchers will be able to develop and evaluate novel AI, sensor, data and computing capabilities that enable small teams of producers to achieve increased yields and profitability with minimal or even positive environmental impact.