UC Santa Cruz Secures Nearly $1M in USDA Grants for AgTech Projects
Plant Science Research

UC Santa Cruz Secures Nearly $1M in USDA Grants for AgTech Projects

UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) has been awarded close to $1 million in seed grants from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to fund three innovative agricultural technology projects.

Key Details of the Projects:

  1. Enhanced Leaf Wetness Sensors for Crops:
    • Lead Investigator: Professor Marco Rolandi, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)
    • Co-Investigators: Professor Gregory Gilbert, Environmental Studies; Assistant Professor Colleen Josephson, ECE
    • Objective: The team aims to advance sensors that utilize a biomimicry approach to offer superior leaf wetness measurements compared to existing technologies. These cost-effective sensors can measure wetness on any leaf type, aiding disease prediction and enhancing crop management. The focus will be optimizing sensors for crops like strawberries, fava beans, spinach, and maize (corn).
  2. Microbial Sensors for Soil Health Monitoring:
    • Lead Investigator: Assistant Professor Colleen Josephson, ECE
    • Co-Investigators: Pat Pannuto, UC San Diego; George Wells and Neal Blair, Northwestern University
    • Objective: The project centers on the soil microbiome, a crucial component of soil health. The team will develop “mud batteries” or microbial fuel cells that produce electrical signals based on microbe activity in the soil. The electrical output from these batteries can provide insights into soil health, with lower outputs potentially indicating unhealthy soil conditions.
  3. Guidance for Autonomous Vehicles in Sensor Monitoring on Farms:
    • Lead Investigator: Assistant Professor Steve McGuire, ECE
    • Co-Investigator: Assistant Professor Colleen Josephson, ECE
    • Objective: The project aims to enhance the connection between soil modeling and sensor data sampling. The team will use autonomous aerial and ground vehicles to efficiently gather sensor data, which will then be integrated into soil models. This approach will pave the way for precision agriculture, optimizing agricultural results while minimizing resource consumption.

These grants reflect UC Santa Cruz’s longstanding commitment to agroecology and sustainable food systems. The projects align with the Baskin School of Engineering’s mission of harnessing technology for societal benefits.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash 

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