Virginia Tech researchers working to create farm of the future

SmartFarm Innovation Network will incorporate technology into agriculture

By Jessica Jewell - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Virginia Tech is now working on innovative research to make the commonwealth's most profitable industry even more efficient, building the farm of the future.

Researchers are analyzing how they can incorporate technology into every aspect of agriculture, leading the charge on bringing farms into the digital era.

“The industry is changing a lot, and it's changing rapidly," said Alan Grant, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "The whole idea is to better meet the needs of industry."

It's all part of a relatively new effort called the SmartFarm Innovation Network. Researchers said they will work to find ways to improve the sustainability of food production systems.

Agriculture and forestry is the largest industry in the commonwealth, churning out more than $91 billion a year in economic impact. The Hokies' new effort should maximize that, getting research on new technology to farmers faster.

Robin White is focusing on livestock.

"We’re hoping to use that sensor to do things like monitor whether the horse's head is up or down. As they chew, this portion moves up and down, so we can monitor their chewing activity," assistant professor Robin White said.

That's just the beginning. Researchers are biodesigning plants to be resistant to drought and disease and developing drone technology to communicate with robots in harvesting equipment.

"I knew technology would change, of course, and we would be adopting new technologies and new practices. I never dreamed it would move this quickly," Grant said.

They're only about a month into the project and still have a long way to go. Right now, they're working to secure funding to keep this research going.

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