Environment

Greensboro, NC – October, 2018 – A team of N.C. A&T researchers led by Dr. Ali Karimoddini received a three-year, $600K grant from the National Science Foundation to fly a team of drones above the university’s 492-acre farm, located off McConnell Road on the east side of Greensboro, for crop health monitoring, a revolutionary step toward smart agriculture.

N.C. A&T’s University Farm is a working, producing farm that raises crops and livestock. Students and faculty in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences use the farm for research and education, while the Cooperative Extension uses the farm to test and demonstrate new crops and farming practices before introducing them to North Carolina’s farming community. The objective of Dr. Karimoddini and his team is to develop a distributed airborne monitoring system to detect possible zones of crop damage or nutrient deficiency at this farm, and eventually many others. Unlike traditional crop management methods that use farmers or ground vehicles for assessing crop health status, using autonomous technology to perform aerial monitoring of agricultural fields saves time and money, while preventing damage to crops.

A multi-disciplinary team of three N.C. A&T faculty members representing three university Colleges are supporting this research grant. Dr. Karimoddini in the College of Engineering is the project principal investigator and director of the Autonomous Cooperative Control of Emergent Systems of Systems (ACCESS) Laboratory with a focus on cooperative control of systems of autonomous vehicles. Dr. Leila Hashemi-Beni from the College of Science and Technology is the Director of the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Science Research Laboratory with a focus on data processing of remote sensing data from unmanned autonomous vehicles, as well as airborne and satellite imagery for precision agriculture and environment management. Dr. Abolghasem Shahbazi in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is director of the CREST Bioenergy Center. In this project, he will use the remote sensing data to evaluate the crop and biomass yield produced at N.C. A&T farm.

“In order to accommodate rapidly-growing food demands and increase the quality and quantity of agricultural production, it is necessary to improve farming management practices and technological developments in agricultural fields,” explains Karimoddini. “This project will blend our university’s expertise in control, robotics, remote sensing and agricultural engineering to develop new approaches for automated monitoring of smart agricultural systems.”

This NSF award supports fundamental research to develop innovative techniques for smart agricultural systems by employing a distributed airborne networked sensor system for a team of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to survey a farm; what is learned here east of Greensboro can benefit farms across the entire state and beyond.

Integrated with the proposed research is an innovative education and outreach plan that will engage a diverse range of students, farmers, and local community members in STEM-relevant activities aimed at increasing public awareness on the new technologies which can be brought to bear on furthering the development of precision agriculture.

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Professor Lyubov A. Kurkalova is Leading Research to Understand the Economics of Forest Management Practices and Productivity

North Carolina is home to multiple varieties of fast-growing trees with vast potential for products ranging from wood pellets to packaging to feedstock for evolving bioenergy markets. But how can managers make better decisions to maximize the productivity of their forests and the economic impact of this sector?

lkurkalova_2014A North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University professor is part of a research team seeking answers to that question. Professor Lyubov A. Kurkalova from the N.C. A&T College of Business and Economics is the economics lead on a three-year joint research initiative between A&T and North Carolina State University’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources that was recently awarded $103,470 for the first year of its work.

The goal of the project is to perfect a forest productivity and economic model that supports a web-based interactive tool for forest managers, who can use the tool to make better decisions on managing their production. Additionally, a proposed regional-scale economic analysis is aimed at informing policy-makers and potential industrial users of wood feedstock.

“North Carolina has significant built-in advantages in this industry,” said Kurkalova. “Fast growing trees, like poplar, green ash, sycamore and loblolly pine can be grown productively throughout the state,” she said. “The point is helping managers make the best decisions regarding which of those varieties they should cultivate for their particular circumstances and needs.”

This is the latest addition to Kurkalova’s expanding research portfolio, which revolves around environmental and energy economics. She has three other current projects underway with support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service Southern Research Station. Her research has been published in a variety of economics and interdisciplinary journals, including Energy Economics, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Biomass and Bioenergy, and Environmental Modeling and Software.

Kurkalova is part of a growing research enterprise at North Carolina A&T supported with more than $60 million in external funding in fiscal year 2016. A&T is the third-most productive public research university in the state, trailing only the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and North Carolina State in federal, state and private support.