Upskilling Urban Ag Professionals: Soil and Water Stewardship through Soil Sensing IoT and AI

Project Overview

WPDP24-021
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2024: $99,660.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipient: Colorado State University
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Deana Namuth-Covert
Colorado State University
Co-Investigators:
James Folkestad
Colorado State University
Jay Ham
Colorado State University

Commodities

No commodities identified

Practices

No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

We have developed high-quality, low-cost soil moisture probes
that can significantly improve irrigation efficiency when used to
automate watering. In this proposal, we couple this technology
with an Upskilling micro-credentialed hands-on training kit with
self-paced online learning. This training and technology is
especially relevant for urban and peri-urban food production
along Colorado’s Front Range. The Food Access Research Atlas
shows that Denver, Loveland, and Fort Collins, CO, have
significant low-income community populations with minimal access
to fresh food. Unfortunately, this same urban area is prone to
water restrictions and increasing water costs – making urban food
production challenging in this arid zone. This project partners
with urban food producers to create demonstration experiments to
help our urban clientele see first-hand the impacts of precision
irrigation tools and practices on crop and vegetable yields while
reducing water use and costs. Stakeholder partners will follow a
training program on Soil Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology
using a hands-on kit that also teaches crucial irrigation
principles. The program will follow cognitive science research,
utilizing “Fit-Bit for Learning” and “Coaching Circle” models,
which have proven successful in longer-term learning that better
leads to behavior changes. This program pilot will empower Urban
Ag Leaders to offer subsequent sensor-based irrigation training
in their education/outreach programs. In addition, the
micro-credential earning opportunity will also provide skills
documentation for any participant, thereby allowing for potential
new career pathways. It is often stated that “Colorado Runs on
Water,” which is more true today with drought, water shortages,
and climate change looming along the Front Range. With the
rapidly growing urban population, we must train tech-savvy urban
growers who can produce fresh food while conserving water
resources.

Project objectives from proposal:

The Project Objectives to be achieved
by 2025 span three inter-connected sub-groups that we are
targeting. 
 

1) Urban Food Innovators
(“Trainers
”) 
-
Through participation in the
Urban Food Innovators program, participants will
gain...
 

  • Awareness of AI applications in
    urban food production.
     
  • Longer-term knowledge of precision
    irrigation principles and their use in urban food
    production.
     
  • Skills for utilizing soil sensing
    and IoT technology in urban food
    production.
     
  • Skills in designing irrigation
    experiment demonstrations.
     
  • Skills in implementing the
    U-Behavior principles for improved learning for those they
    train.
     

2) Employees/Staff at Urban Food
Innovator Locations
 

  • Increased knowledge of precision
    irrigation principles and their use in urban food
    production.
     
  • New skills for utilizing soil
    sensing and IoT technology in urban food
    production.
     
  • Skills in managing experiment
    demonstrations.
     

3) Visitors to Urban Food Innovator
Locations
 

  • Increased awareness of precision
    irrigation principles and use in urban food
    production.
     
  • Improved knowledge of soil sensing
    and IoT technology in urban food
    production.
     
  • Expanded
    Inter
    est in pursuing
    agriculture careers.
     
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.