Improving Crop Productivity and Value Through Heterogeneous Data Integration, Analytics, and Decision Support Platforms
Natalie Genevieve Nelson
Project runs from 02/17/2020 to 06/30/2023
Inconsistent quality and aesthetics in agricultural crops can result in increased consumer and producer food waste, reduced industry resiliency and decreased farmers’ and growers’ profit, poor consumer satisfaction, and inefficiencies across the supply chain. Although there are opportunities to characterize and quantify sources of phenotypic variability across the agricultural supply chain – from cultural practices of growers and producers to storage and handling by distributors – the data available to allow for assessment of horticultural quality drivers are disparate and disconnected. The absence of data integration platforms that link heterogeneous datasets across the supply chain precludes the development of strategies and solutions to constrain variability in produce quality. This project’s central hypothesis is that multi-dimensional produce data can be securely integrated and used to optimize management practices in the field while simultaneously adding value across the entire food supply chain. We propose to develop multi-modal sensing platform along with a trust-based, data management, integration, and analytics framework for systematic organization and dynamic abstraction of heterogeneous data across the supply chain of agricultural crops. The projects short term goals are to (1) engage growers to refine research and extension priorities; (2) develop a first-of-its-kind modular imaging system that responds to grower needs by analyzing existing and novel multi-dimensional data; (3) establish the cyberinfrastructure, including analytics and blockchain, to make meaningful inference of the acquired data as related to management practices while ensuring data security; (4) deploy the sensing system at NCSU’s Horticultural Crops Research Station in Clinton, NC and on a large-scale system at a major commercial farm and distribution facility, and (5) extend findings to producers and regulators through NC Cooperative Extension. The proposed sensing and cyberinfrastructure platforms will be crop-agnostic and our findings will be transferable to other horticultural crops produced in NC and beyond.