NMSU-DACC partnership aims to develop smart-farming workforce

Professor Young Ho Park is leading a new collaborative USDA program aimed to improve food security through the use of innovative smart farming skills based on cutting-edge technology and big data analytics. (NMSU photo by Vladimir Avina)

Date: April 26, 2021
Writer: Linda Fresques, lfresque@nmsu.edu, 575-646-7416
Contact: Young Ho Park, ypark@nmsu.edu, 675-646-3092
 
The New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences along with Doña Ana Community College have formed a partnership to prepare the next-generation workforce to use innovative smart farming skills including cutting-edge technology and big data analytics to improve food security and improve agricultural industries.
 
Led by Young Ho Park, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Training of Next Generation Workforce for Smart Food Science and Agricultural Technology in the Digital Era (WorkFoS-Ag) has been funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for $500,000.
 
“The world will need 70% more food to feed a global population of nearly 10 billion in 2050. So, innovation in today’s agriculture is more important than ever before. And agricultural innovation requires diverse expertise from many disciplines including mechanical, civil, electrical engineering, computer and information technology and food science,” said Park.
 
The future of food and agriculture systems will rely on collecting, analyzing and using data to maximize farm efficiency and resiliency, however, there is a huge skill gap in the use of these advanced technologies.
 
Food security is a worldwide problem with local impact, said Park. “New Mexico is booming with diverse industries, but the agriculture sector stands out for embracing new technologies. With this kind of program dedicated to training our next generation workforce, New Mexico has a lot to offer to carry the agriculture industry into the future.
 
Park will be joined by NMSU co-principal investigators from Delia Valles-Rosales, professor of industrial engineering; Hansuk Sohn, interim department head of industrial engineering; Dr. Efren Delgado, associate professor of family and consumer sciences; and Jon Juarez, department chair of DACC’s computer technology program. Over a three-year period, WorkFoS-Ag plans to train an anticipated 150 community college students in emerging agricultural smart farming skills.
 
The team will create a new 19-credit, one-year certificate in Computer Systems, Information Technology and Data Analytics. The CID certificate that will provide a path to two associate of applied science degrees at DACC as well as two bachelor degrees at NMSU. The collaborative development of the interdisciplinary curriculum will blend applied skills typically taught at two-year schools with research-based curriculum typically taught at four-year schools.
 
“We have a responsibility to educate and train our students to learn to use cutting-edge technologies to ultimately increase agricultural production. This program will position students in a highly competitive environment to meet current innovation demands,” said Valles-Rosales.
 
Additionally, the program will provide job-based learning opportunities with the creation of a new state-registered apprenticeship program providing employer-driven, hands-on training for high-wage, family supporting careers. WorkFoS-Ag will partner with local economic development organizations, state workforce development agencies, and agricultural industries to develop workforce training in the area of smart agriculture and food science education. The apprenticeship, which may last from one to six years, will combine on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the supervision of an experienced industry professional. The program will encourage students to discover viable careers.
 
“We are creating a collaborative team between academia, industry, farmers and government committed to prepare the next generation of students by immersing them in a unique environment combining theory and practice,” said Valles-Rosales. “This also includes along the development of skills such as communication, self-efficacy, and team work and at the same time, solving agriculture problems not just in the region but nationwide.”
 
Intelligent farming relies on implementing the Internet of Things (IoT): the network of sensors, software and other technologies that support the sharing of data for the purpose of analysis. At DACC, introductory courses to networking and Internet of Things courses are taught by Cisco Certified Networking Academy instructors. DACC also has a fully equipped Cisco Networking laboratory and expects to expand its course offerings in support of WorkFoS-Ag.
 
“DACC has 20-year history of teaching Cisco certification courses. We’re looking forward to expanding our offerings. In support of this grant, beginning fall 2021, we will be teaching three new courses including advanced IoT, data analytics and a capstone course,” said Juarez.
 
“This program focuses on training our students for next generation workforce and preparing them with the cutting-edge science and engineering knowledge and data analytics skills. Our team is certainly capable of training students for cutting-edge sensor technology, IoT systems and big data analytics, said Park. “But the most important quality of our team is that we care about our students and want to make a difference in their careers and lives.”
At NMSU, students will be trained using a wireless sensor network on 41.1-acre farming science center maintained by NMSU’s Extension Service; the Aggie Innovation Space, a state-of-the art maker space in the College of Engineering; and in a 5,000 sq. ft. hands-on Food Safety and Training Center facility.
 
The challenge for food security is to not only boost food production but also to minimize
food loss. During transportation from farm to warehouse to retailer, agricultural products are vulnerable to spoilage. Not only is there loss of food, but also a waste of resources such as land, water, fertilizer and human labor, as well as increasing emission of greenhouse gases.
 
The scope of big data applications in smart farming goes beyond primary production; it is influencing the entire food supply chain. A “Smart Food Supply Chain” uses IoT sensors for real-time transparency and traceability to identify and prevent issues that lead to food loss or waste from harvest to store. To improve production capabilities, efficiency and sustainability, farmers and agricultural companies must manage complex devices and data. The future of food and agriculture systems will rely on collecting, analyzing and using data to maximize farm efficiency and resiliency.
 
The scope of big data applications in smart farming goes beyond primary production; it is influencing the entire food supply chain. A “Smart Food Supply Chain” uses IoT sensors for real-time transparency and traceability to identify and prevent issues that lead to food loss or waste from harvest to store. In order to improve production capabilities, efficiency and sustainability, farmers and agricultural companies must improve the management of complex devices and its accompanying data. The future of food and agriculture systems will rely on collecting, analyzing and using data to maximize farm efficiency and resiliency.

“We hope our program and participating students would have a positive impact on the societal grant challenge of food, water and energy security for decades to come,” said Park.


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