Looking to the Future: AgAID Institute

Person behind a computer and sensors in a field
Chenchen Kang, a graduate student with Qin Zhang at WSU, collects spectral images in the field. Photo: Kate Prengaman/Good Fruit Grower

In September 2021, WSU began leadership of a new Agriculture-Artificial Intelligence (AI) research Institute: the AgAID Institute. As the growing population increases food demand, agriculture faces complex challenges related to labor, water scarcity, weather events and climate change. The AgAID Institute is developing AI solutions to help address these pressing challenges and spur the next agricultural revolution with the use of AI. We’re building tools and workflows to help mitigate the effects of labor costs and shortages, and to better manage regional resources such as water, despite climate uncertainties. The Institute will bring more data and science- guided information to the fingertips of agricultural workers to help them make better decisions.

The Institute’s mission is to build and foster partnerships between AI and Ag communities and create a transdisciplinary ecosystem for technology innovation and knowledge transfer. This collaboration between university partners in agriculture (WSU, UC Merced) and computer science (OSU, UVM) creates technology innovation at a variety of levels and partnering with Heritage University (which serves a Native American population), and Wenatchee Valley College (which works with many Latinx students) develops pathways for the inclusion of under-served communities toward higher level professions at the intersection of Ag and AI. By increasing AI education and closing skill gaps, the Institute aims to help transform this critical labor force and create new opportunities for computing and STEM majors.

CSANR is a partner in this effort, with members of the Center engaged in several AgAID Institute “thrusts” or project focuses. We are currently working on the “Broadening Participation” thrust, which promotes integral involvement from the people who will use the tools—the farmers, workers, and managers— throughout all stages of the development process.

Group of people standing in front of trees
The AgAID Institute team visited an apple orchard during their kickoff meeting in Fall 2021. Photo: AgAID Institute

By leveraging our breadth of experience in Extension and Outreach, we are working with farmworkers- particularly those in apple orchards, cherry orchards, and vineyards- to develop solutions to the complexities of pruning, thinning, irrigation, frost mitigation, and water availability that involve their experience from the outset. This helps to ensure accessibility to more technical career opportunities and ensures that the AI solutions are practical and add value, which makes them more likely to be used in dynamic real-world situations. We are partnering through K-12, college, and workforce training efforts (for example, with 4H and STEM education programs) to raise AI skill levels and open new career paths to increase compensation and improve quality of life for the agricultural workforce, while attracting more people to agriculture and computing professions.

This Institute aims to be truly interdisciplinary and aligns well with a significant amount of the work from historic CSANR involvement – from leveraging our work forecasting water supply and demand in the Columbia Basin to our extensive connections with growers across the state. Using AI can improve our ability to understand water demand and availability, while working directly with farmworkers to develop technology that improves their career prospects.

As these pathways continue to develop, we look forward to contributing to CSANR’s mission of providing practical solutions to the new, complex challenges facing agriculture and natural resource management.This article was originally published as a CSANR 2021 Annual Report story. For this story and more, check out the Annual Reports here.


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