A Workshop Series on Robotics, Automation, and Drone Technologies for Sustainable Agriculture

Progress report for WPDP23-013

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2023: $98,942.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G117-24-W9986
Grant Recipient: University of California, Davis
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Ali Moghimi
University of California, Davis
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Project Information


The use of technology is imperative to produce food, feed, fiber, and energy sustainably to meet the current and future demands without compromising resources and the environment. The transition from conventional to sustainable agricultural practices is leading to noticeable shifts in workforce development programs in the agriculture industry to adopt cutting-edge technologies, such as drone technology, robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI), in farms. This transition toward sustainable, digital agriculture requires informative education and high-impact practices to keep agricultural professionals’ knowledge, skills, and ability (KSA) relevant to future work. The primary objective of this project is to educate the participants with the essential KSA to facilitate the transition of the new wave of technology revolution to farms. We pursue our goal by organizing a series of two-day workshops focused on disruptive technologies, including drones, robotics, and automation. We allocate two workshop offerings to crop advisors and agricultural specialists and two offerings to high school teachers and community college instructors. Ag specialists and advisors will walk away with a deeper awareness of the need for drone technology, robotics, and automation and with fostered technical skills for using these modern technologies for sustainable farming. Teachers and instructors will gain the essential knowledge and skillsets to develop curricula and strategies for educating the next generation of agricultural professionals through innovative pedagogy and high-impact practices in the midst of rapidly changing technology. Participants are expected to incorporate the new knowledge obtained in this program in their extension education, consulting services, educational programs, and policy-making activities. The primary outcome indicators to demonstrate our success in achieving the defined intended outcomes are changes in participants’ KSA as a short-term change (e.g., learning new topics about innovative technologies) and in their behavior/action as a medium-term change (e.g., assisting growers in using these technologies to make informed decisions). 

Project Objectives:

The proposal’s objectives fall into three main categories:

Objective 1: Assess the needs of California producers and analyze the regional job market’s demand to demystify what technical knowledge and technical skills agricultural professionals require (or are expected) to have to facilitate the adoption of innovative technologies aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture.

Objective 2: Develop curriculum and hands-on activities for the workshop. The educational modules developed for the proposed program and the experience gained through the program will be invaluable resources for developing evidence-based curricula, science-based teaching materials, and high-impact activities that can benefit a wide range of educational programs, including K12 programs, community colleges, and universities to advance student understanding of modern transformational technologies in agriculture. In addition, there is a synergistic and complementary relationship (e.g., sharing equipment, resources, and educational materials) between the proposed program and the newly-launched Agricultural and Environmental Technology major at UC Davis, which aims to bridge the disciplines of agriculture, applied engineering, and management.

Objective 3: Foster the technological knowledge and technical skills of agricultural professionals (industry partners, ag specialists, crop advisors, etc.), who will, in turn, assist the growers in adopting modern technologies, such as drones, robotics, and automation, to move toward sustainable agriculture by making targeted and informed decisions and tailoring their management plans to their desired outcomes. 

To ensure the success and productivity of the workshop, the project team will leverage the available resources, such as the University of California Agriculture and Natural Research, UC Davis Center for Educational Effectiveness, and UC Davis Cooperative Extension Program, and the other institutes and entities across the Western region of the United States. In addition, local companies, such as FarmBot and Parallax, have agreed to collaborate on the development of curricula and educational activities.


A tentative timeline, the list of milestones, and the expected outcomes per each milestone are outlined below.


Needs assessment: [Sep 2023 – Feb 2024]

  • Surveys and interviews with producers and industry partners are performed.
  • The essential technical KSA, which agricultural professionals require to implement drones, robotics, and automation, is recognized.
  • The time windows that work best for the majority of potential audiences are identified.


Curriculum development and materials preparations: [Feb – Jul 2024] [revising curriculum based on evaluation results: Jan – Apr 2025]

  • Evidence-based curricula and hands-on activities are developed for each section in the first year and revised in the second year.
  • Required equipment and educational tools are purchased.

Executive planning of the workshop: [Mar – Jul 2024] [Mar – Jul 2025]

  • Strategic planning for the workshop is performed (format, venue, date, experimental tools and activities, registration, and participant financial support).

Outreach and advertisement: [Mar – Apr 2024] [Mar – Apr 2025]

  • The workshop program is widely advertised across the Western States.
  • Underserved communities are identified and encouraged to participate.

Application and review process: [May – Jun 2024] [May – Jun 2025]

  • The application and review process is completed.
  • The selected candidates are admitted and encouraged to provide their acceptance decisions by the end of June.

Host the workshop: [Aug 2024] [Aug 2025]

  • Two workshop series will be held each year.

Assess, track, and document the outcomes of the workshop: [Sep – Dec 2024] [Sep – Dec 2025]

  • Survey and interview data are analyzed and documented.
  • A comprehensive report will be compiled after the second year.



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Educational approach:

We will offer two-day workshop series four times over two years, one day focusing on drones and the other day on robotics/automation. We have prepared a few instructional materials for the drone sessions and we are currently in the process of developing materials for the precision weeding session.

For our outreach activities, we reached out to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Research (UC ANR) and the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS) to explore collaboration and leverage their network.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Regional job market’s demand

Demystify the need for agricultural professional workforce with essential technical skills to implement drones, robotics, and automation in agriculture.


We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with seven farmers from California and engaged with four precision weeding startups. Our survey findings revealed several key insights:

o   Grower Perceptions: The feedback from farmers highlighted that traditional farming mentalities, coupled with a perceived lack of formal education in the field, act as significant barriers to the widespread adoption of precision weeding technologies.

o   Educational Engagement: Interestingly, some of the startups we interviewed expressed a desire to collaborate more closely with universities. Their aim is to actively participate in shaping educational curricula and potentially develop specialized two-year technical degree programs. This strategic move is driven by the need to address workforce challenges within the agricultural technology sector.

Besides the interview, we investigate the findings of other resources regarding the labor market in California. According to a labor market analysis conducted by the Central Valley/Mother Lode Center of Excellence in 2023, the demand for drone technology-related jobs in the region is substantial, with 180 annual job openings. However, only two individuals were awarded positions in this field, with a significant undersupply of 178 skilled workers. It is worth noting that the Central Valley is the agricultural heart of California, further emphasizing the importance of addressing this workforce gap. In the North Central Valley/Northern Mother Lode regions, all 45 open positions related to drone technology remained unfilled, which indicates a critical shortage of qualified professionals in this area.

This undersupply issue extends beyond drone technology to involve the broader domain of agriculture technology and sciences. For instance, a report published by the South Central Coast Center of Excellence for Labor Market Research in 2023 revealed that there were only 681 individuals who completed programs related to agriculture technology and sciences, while 1317 job openings existed in this field. This significant shortfall underscores the urgent need for a qualified workforce to meet the demands of the agriculture technology and sciences sector.

Outcomes and impacts:

Our findings and investigations highlighted the timely relevance and importance of the proposed workshop series. Addressing these workforce shortages is vital for the continued growth and innovation of the agricultural industry in California.

Curriculum development

Develop curriculum and hands-on activities for the workshop


For the drone sessions, we tested DJI Avata drones equipped with two different types of First-Person View goggles: DJI Goggles Integra and DJI Goggles 2. Our goal was to determine which of these goggles offers a superior experience for participants. Additionally, we have prepared a range of instructional materials so far, including information on FAA regulations and sensing technologies relevant to drones. The hands-on activities in this section encompass both manual and autonomous flight techniques.

For the precision weeding sessions, we purchased the FarmBot Genesis XL v1.7, an open-source gantry-style educational robot. To facilitate these sessions, we established a raised bed with approximately 3x6 meters, featuring a dedicated aluminum frame designed to accommodate the FarmBot. Currently, we are in the process of developing a safety protocol to educate our participants on how to interact with the FarmBot safely and responsibly.


A. FarmBot installed on a raised bed. B. The CAD design of the support frame for the FarmBot. C. A mechanism to ensure the long-term alignment and level of the linear rails. Aluminum was chosen for the support frame because it will maintain dimensional stability independent of moisture, and its coefficient of thermal expansion matches that of the FarmBot.

Outcomes and impacts:

We are in the process of developing curriculum for the workshop.

Foster the technical skills of participants

Foster the technological knowledge and technical skills of agricultural professionals (e.g., industry partners, ag specialists, crop advisors, etc.) and instructors (including K12 programs, community colleges, and universities).


We will offer two-day workshop series four times over two years, one day focusing on drones and the other day on robotics/automation. Two offerings are allocated to high school teachers and community college instructors, who will educate the next generation of agricultural scientists and workforces, and the other two to crop advisors and ag specialists, who will successively assist the grower in adopting cutting-edge technologies to promote sustainability. The tentative time to offer the first series of the workshop is the summer of 2024.

Outcomes and impacts:

Not available at this point.

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Not available at this point.

Additional Outcomes:

Not available at this point.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.