Transforming Agriculture with Intelligent Infrastructure


Shashi Shekhar : Biography ( 100 words , 350 words ), Homepage , Picture


Computer Science Department, University of Minnesota.





Agriculture provides food, feed, fiber and fuel for our nation while sustaining rural and urban economies. It accounts for 10% of U.S. jobs and is creating many new jobs in the emerging field of big-data-driven farming. However, our global competitiveness and food security are at risk due to challenges in social-infrastructure (e.g., workforce aging & shortage), environmental infrastructure (e.g., bee colony collapse, increase rainfall variability), and cyber-infrastructure (e.g., limited broadband and computing). These food security challenges are amplified by population growth, climate change, urbanization around the world. To ensure U.S. global competitiveness and long-term food security, it is imperative that we invest in intelligent infrastructure.

Intelligent Infrastructures have already enabled game-changing precision agriculture capabilities-- the ability to optimize farm returns, reduce unnecessary use of fertilizers, and preserve natural resources. Precision agriculture uses many intelligent infrastructure components including the Global Positioning System and Sensors (in-situ and remote) for farm mapping; Geographic Information Systems for map visualization; Spatial databases and spatial statistics to understand farm variability; and spatial optimization to improve efficiency. Without exception, these infrastructures were pioneered via research with federal support. For example, USDOD created the Global Positioning System.

Future intelligent infrastructure opportunities in agriculture are even more compelling. For example, tele-operation and virtual reality may aid aging farmers, train new workers and engage urban youth. Robotic bees may help pollinate farms near declining bee populations. Cyber-Physical systems may reduce water waste during dry spells. TV white-band and cloud computing may help enrich network bandwidth and computing resources. Spatial data science may analyze imagery from UAVs and satellites to monitor crop health, forecast yields and reduce food shortage by proactively dealing with potential crop failures. Privacy-protecting sharing mechanisms may encourage sharing of farm data to accelerate evaluation and spread of new ideas across diverse growing conditions.

The research of today will drive the intelligent infrastructure innovations that will change our lives in the years and decade(s) ahead. A promising way forward is via knowledge co-creation across academia (e.g., early stage research, workforce development), industry (e.g., commercialization) and government (e.g., encourage early-stage research & safety).

KEYWORDS: Computing, Data, Data Science, Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the University of Minnesota. The talk presents ideas from community papers exploring intelligent infrastructure and big data for agriculture as well as a recent NSF workshop to explore a research agenda for next generation data science to address the challenges of FEW nexus.


  1. Co-organizers, Panel on Computing to Sustainably Feed a Growing Population on our Changing Planet , American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Annual Meeting, 330pm-5pm, February 14, 2020. See a short report in CCC at AAAS 2020: Using Computing to Sustainably Feed a Growing Population , Khari Douglas, CCC Blog, March 24th, 2020.
  2. Transforming Agriculture with Intelligent Infrastructure : ( pdf slides (5Mb) ). This presentation was discussed in following broad media articles:
  3. Agriculture Big Data (AgBD) Challenges and Opportunities From Farm To Table: A Midwest Big Data Hub Community Whitepaper, , Shashi Shekhar, Patrick Schnable, David LeBauer, Katherine Baylis, and Kim VanderWaal, NSF Midwest Big Data Hub, December, 2017.
  4. Intelligent Infrastructure for Smart Agriculture: An Integrated Food, Energy and Water System, Shashi Shekhar, Joe Colletti, Francisco Munoz-Arriola, Lakshmish Ramaswamy, Chandra Krintz, Lav Varshney, and Debra Richardson; arXiv preprint arXiv:1705.01993 (2017).
  5. Data Science for Food, Energy and Water: A Workshop Report , ACM SIGKDD Explorer, 18(2):1-4, December 2016. describes the highlights of the ACM SIGKDD Workshop on Data Science for Food, Energy and Water , 2016.
  6. NSF Workshop to Identify Interdisciplinary Data Science Approaches and Challenges to Enhance Understanding of Interactions of Food Systems with Energy and Water Systems , Computing Research News (ISSN 1069-384X), Computing Research Association, 27(10), November 2015.
  7. Capitol Hill Presentation on Deconstructing Precision Agriculture , Computing Research News (ISSN 1069-384X), Computing Research Association, 27(4), April 2015.
  8. 40 maps that explain food in America , E. Klein and S. Locke, vox.com, June 9, 2014.
  9. New grants foster research on food, energy and water: a linked system , Press Release 15-090, National Science Foundation, August 14th, 2015.
  10. NSF INFEWS related sessions at the 16th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and Environment, on The Food-Energy-Water Nexus , January 19-21, 2016.
  11. October 2015 NSF Workshop to Identify Interdisciplinary Data Science Approaches and Challenges to Enhance Understanding of Interactions of Food Systems with Energy and Water Systems

NEWS ARTICLES (about one of many ideas in the talk and whitepapers)

  1. The Race to Build a Better Bee : Could drone pollinators help secure our future food supply?, Jodi Helmer, JSTOR Daily, Andrew Mellon Foundation, August 21st, 2018.
  2. CCC@AAAS 2018- Transforming Cities, Transportation, and Agriculture with Intelligent Infrastructure , March 22nd, 2018 / in CCC, research horizons, Research News.
  3. Intelligent Infrastructure for Smart Agriculture, CRA CCC Blog, July 11th, 2017.
  4. It looks like Black Mirror has predicted the future AGAIN , buzz.ie, March 20th, 2018.
  5. Robotic bees fitted with GPS trackers could be used to pollinate crops, scientists claim, The Sun, Feb 19, 2018.
  6. Robot bees could be deployed if natural population continues to collapse , Mirror.co.uk, Feb 19, 2018.
  7. Robot bees warning: Could drones for pollinating crops be told to attack us if they are taken over by hackers?, Daily Mail, Feb 19, 2018.
  8. Real life Black Mirror? Boffins design robot BEES that could KILL if hacked , Daily Star, Feb 20, 2018.
  9. Boffins create Robot Super Monster Wolf in desperate bid to protect property , Daily Star, March 8th, 2018.
  10. The RoboBee Collective, HarvardMagazine, Nov.-Dec. 2017.
  11. Robo-Bees Could Aid Insects with Pollination Duties, Scientific American, Feb. 11th, 2017,
  12. Robot drone bees? It's not a horror movie, it's a Walmart patent, USA Today, March 15th, 2018,


  1. Collaborative Geodesign and Spatial Optimization for Fragmentation-Free Land Allocation ( pdf , html ) Yiqun Xie, Bryan C. Runck, Shashi Shekhar, Len Kne, David Mulla, Nicolas Jordan and Peter Wiringa, ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information 2017, 6(7), 226; doi:10.3390/ijgi6070226 .
  2. Spatially Constrained Geodesign Optimization (GOP) for Improving Agricultural Watershed Sustainability ( pdf ), AAAI Workshop on AI and OR for Social Good (AIORSocGood-17) , 2017 ( Yiqun Xie, Kwangsoo Yang, Shashi Shekhar, Brent Dalzell and David Mulla ).
  3. Spatial Computing Perspective on Food Energy and Water Nexus ( Springer web-site , local copy ), E. Eftelioglu, Z. Jiang, R. Ali, and S. Shekhar, Journal of Environmental Sciences and Studies (Special Issue on FEW Nexus), 6(1):62-76, Springer, March 2016 ( ISSN: 2190-6483 (Print) 2190-6491 (Online) ).
  4. James H. Faghmous, Vipin Kumar, and Shashi Shekhar, Guest Editorial ( html , pdf ) to the Special Issue on Computing and Climate, IEEE Computing in Science and Engineering, 17(6): 6-8, November 2015.
  5. D. Lazer, R. Kennedy, G. King and A. Vespignani, The Parable of Google Flu: Traps in Big Data Analysis, Science, 343:1203-1205, 14th March, 2014, AAAS.
  6. The Water Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities, USDOE, June 2014.
  7. The Water-Energy Nexus: An Earth Science Perspective, USGS Circular 1407, 2014.
  8. J. Liu et al., Systems integration for global sustainability, Review article, Science, 347(6225), AAAS, 27th February 2015.
  9. A. Ando et al., Methods of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, Water , 7, 2015:5806-5830, mdpi.com. (doi:10.3390/w7105806).
  10. The food-energy-water security nexus: Definitions, policies and methods in an application to Malawi and Mozambique, IFPRI Discussion Paper 01480, NOVEMBER 2015
  11. Crop Monitor - A GEOGLAM Initiative .