Researchers receive $5 million for small farm AI project

by George Jared ([email protected]) 478 views 

A team of researchers and regional industry partners will receive up to $5 million in additional funding for a Phase 2 investment from the NSF Convergence Accelerator to continue development of Cultivate IQ, an AI-driven platform designed to aid smaller farms and improve the resiliency of regional food systems, bringing the total federal investment in the University of Arkansas led project to nearly $6 million.

“This Phase 2 NSF Convergence Accelerator award obtained after completion of a very intense Phase 1 and a very competitive process, exemplifies the approach taken by I3R in selection of our projects to assure deployment of solutions to identified needs that will make a societal impact,” said Ranu Jung, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor, I³R founding executive director, and a senior advisor on the project. “It is also an example of how we partner with our university, industry, and other subject matter experts taking the latest technologies like AI/ML to find solutions that scale.”

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) launched the Convergence Accelerator program in 2019. Aligned to the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP), the Convergence Accelerator is a program designed to leverage a convergence approach to transition basic research and discovery into practice using innovation processes—like human-centered design, user discovery, and team science—and integration of multidisciplinary research and partnerships.

“A collaborative approach between academic researchers, industry, government, nonprofits, and other communities is important to optimize the production of food and connections between farmers and consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders,” said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. “A lot of great work was accomplished by all teams in Phase 1, but there is still more to be done. The teams selected for Phase 2 are expected to build innovative, tangible solutions and strong partnerships to address food scarcity, irrigation issues, supply chain inequalities and inefficiencies, and more.”

Driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning, Cultivate IQ integrates sales and production data from across the farm-to-market supply chain to help plan and manage regional food supplies. Local food buyers, including aggregators and distributors, host their growers on the platform, extending access to market insights, production planning tools, and purchase orders.

Greater access to meaningful data enables producers to better match food supply and demand. Striving to avoid both overproduction and underproduction minimizes food loss and can have a positive economic impact on smaller farms by opening up new market channels. This is particularly important in Arkansas given that agriculture is the state’s top industry, the Arkansas Delta is one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the country, and Northwest Arkansas has one of the highest concentrations of small-scale farmers in the state.