College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Sustainable agriculture in the cloud: ECpE’s Kumar receives $600,000 NSF award

Sustainable agriculture in the cloud: ECpE’s Kumar receives $600,000 NSF award

Farming and agriculture are the core of the Midwest, and especially Iowa — so enhancing sustainable farming practices is a must at Iowa State University.

Ratnesh Kumar, Murray J. and Ruth M. Harpole Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State, recently received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project helping farmers monitor their crops — optimizing the farming experience with cloud-based technology.

MyGeoHub, a cloud-based service, will serve as Kumar’s cloud platform for using point-and-grid-based parameters to model the soil dynamics and crop growth, and discover the best and most optimal mix of inputs for nutrients and irrigation. By knowing the most optimal level of nutrients and irrigation a crop needs, farmers won’t have to use excess resources and further harm the environment. Since Kumar will be using MyGeoHub, this information and decision making will be accessible through web browsers and other infrastructures (e.g, AgMIP) — leading to a more technically-savvy and environmentally-friendly farming industry.

“The ultimate goal is to provide our farmers with cloud-service based monitoring, modeling and decision-making tools for their farm health and production management, so their applied resources are site-specific, dynamic and optimal, leading to precise and sustainable agriculture,” Kumar said. “This also helps our environment, as otherwise, the unused resources are lost to waterways causing contamination and eutrophication, and to the atmosphere contributing greenhouse gases.”

Kumar has been passionate about improving farming through engineering ever since he moved to Iowa in 2002. He immediately wrote his very first proposal on sensors and models driving precision crop production in 2003. Kumar recognizes that Iowa is the heartland for agriculture — and even more so at Iowa State.

“There is a very strong research facility that already exists on campus, namely, at the USDA-ARS (United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Services), which is our collaborator,” Kumar said. “Over those years of being at Iowa State, I have had continual support from NSF and have already graduated six Ph.D. students on the topic of agriculture sensors and their energy-harvesting, and five more Ph.D. students in the group are currently pursuing such related research. So far, this line of work has led to awarding of three patents on agriculture sensors and energy-harvesting, while three more patents are pending.”

By receiving the new award from the NSF, Kumar now has additional funding for more high-quality innovations for his ongoing research.

“Getting an award from NSF on the important topic of agriculture that is close to the cause of our state and of humanity is very fulfilling. It provides the valuable resources to foster research and train new Ph.D. students who will carry the much needed engineering-driven innovation in precision and sustainable agriculture that provides food, fiber, fodder and fuel to humanity,” he said. “I am thankful to my Co-PI, Dr. Robert Malone of USDA-ARS, and also to my past and current Ph.D. students, especially to Anupam Bhar, who is directly working on the modeling aspect of agriculture that is a basis for this grant.”