As today’s farmers seek improved production with less human resources, the future workforce must learn to use emerging technologies for agricultural tasks previously done by hand.
A new research project, the AgTech Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates, REEU, with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M AgriLife, will help meet this need by preparing the next generation of the agricultural workforce. The program will offer undergraduate students hands-on research and extension experiences with innovative agricultural technologies.
The project is led by members from the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science, CBI, at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the university’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, working with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
The project is funded by a $750,000 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative-Education and Workforce Development grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Collaborative research across Texas A&M entities
Yuxia “Lucy” Huang, Ph.D., director of CBI’s GeoCommunityLab and associate professor of geospatial Science at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, serves as the project’s lead. She will be joined by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Mehdi Sookhak, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science.
Also joining the team from Texas A&M AgriLife and the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are Mahendra Bhandari, Ph.D., AgriLife Research remote-sensing crop physiologist and assistant professor; and Joshua McGinty, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist and associate professor. Both are located at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Corpus Christi and are a part of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.
Building the smart-farming workforce
“Smart farming is the future of agriculture,” Huang said. “However, our current workforce lacks opportunities for science-based training and experience. Our program will empower students with the knowledge and experience to use innovative agricultural technologies to become qualified, passionate professionals ready to pursue advanced degrees or careers.”
The program will support eight undergraduate students per academic year, for a total of 40 students over five years. Each cohort will participate in a 25-week research experience with an eight-week paid summer internship, conferences and travel support, field trips, workshops and training through government entities and industry partners.
“There is great potential for students who participate in this program to go on and pursue graduate degrees and get involved in research or find high-paying jobs in the agriculture industry,” Bhandari said. “The market for digital agriculture is growing, and we will need trained professionals in the coming years.”
Ana Guerrero ’27, a Corpus Christi native pursuing a doctoral degree in coastal and marine systems sciences, said the AgTech REEU program can provide some of the same opportunities she experienced during a summer internship she completed with AgriLife Research for her bachelor’s degree in geographic information science.
“We measured plant growth with data collected from UAVs piloted above the field, but we also measured the plant height of specific samples within the fields with meter sticks, pen and paper,” Guerrero said. “You don’t realize how soft and uneven the ground is for growing crops. It’s difficult to monitor even 50 plants among 1,000. Smart farming reduces risks associated with traditional farming. I hope one day every farm and field can utilize it.”
Interested students can apply to participate
To be eligible to apply for the AgTech REEU program, students must:
- Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
- Be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at a community college or four-year university.
- Be a major in STEM, agriculture or related field of study.
- Carry a cumulative GPA of 2.8 or higher.
“We hope the program provides opportunities for students, but also closes educational gaps and serves the economic needs of South Texas,” Huang said. “Students from underrepresented groups, such as Hispanics and women, and those enrolled at South Texas colleges and universities are encouraged to apply.”
To learn more about the AgTech REEU program or to apply, visit http://reeu.tamucc.edu.
This story, written by Brenda Davis and Richard Guerrero, was first published on the Conrad Blucher Institute, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, website.