Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – This semester, master’s students in computer science professor Ken Birman’s cloud computing course are tackling challenges specific to digital agriculture – the use of technology and data systems to optimize all aspects of food production.

For example: Through advanced sensor technology and big data, how can you efficiently monitor millions of acres of grapes, almonds and apples for water stress and other vital signs? What would the logistics and cost be? And on a dairy farm with 1,000 cows outfitted with networked sensors, can cow health be predicted before illness impacts wellness and productivity?

Digital agriculture at Cornell University – which already has been enhancing curricula such as Birman’s course, cross-college research projects and partnerships with industry – has just been seeded for robust additional growth.

The Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA) was created last year to marshal Cornell’s multidisciplinary strengths, connecting researchers with practitioners to tackle global food system challenges. The self-assembled faculty initiative has been dubbed the newest interdisciplinary, universitywide effort under Provost Michael Kotlikoff’s Radical Collaboration Drives Discovery initiative.

The addition of digital agriculture give the initiative enhanced resources to seed efforts to bring innovative, interdisciplinary faculty teams together, develop and apply digital innovations in agriculture that improve sustainability, profitability, resiliency and efficiency of the world’s food systems, and seek out and build mutually beneficial private-public partnerships to collaborate with Cornell researchers.

Additionally, Trustee Emeritus Stephen Ashley ’62, MBA ’64, has given a $2.5 million gift establishing a research innovation fund for digital agriculture. It will support CIDA’s cross-college interdisciplinary research teams and, together with funding by colleges and the university, will bolster the task force’s reach.

“Digital agriculture continues to blossom rapidly across academic and research fields, and there is no university as uniquely positioned as Cornell to help meet the world’s food system needs,” said Kotlikoff. “The faculty have led this initiative from the beginning, and it is their efforts, expertise and momentum that has made the timing perfect to add this task force to our collaborations umbrella.”

The initiative task force is led by professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of CIDA, Susan McCouch. McCouch will share the task force directorship duties on a rotating basis with CIDA’s two associate directors – professor of chemical and biomolecular engingeering, Abe Stroock, and associate professor of computer science, Hakim Weatherspoon. The initiative draws faculty from agriculture and life sciences, engineering, computing and information science, and veterinary medicine.

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.