This is a historic moment. UF/IFAS is about to help lead a leap forward in farming. Part of how we’ll do it is by building a hub dedicated to revolutionizing agriculture.
A Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture will be that hub. We recently announced our plan for a 19,000-square-foot facility (about a third the size of McCarty D) anchored by a workshop for developing machine prototypes. Plans call for research and office space as well.
It will also include common areas for that special sauce for innovation: chance or planned encounters that make collaboration more likely. The center will be a place to make our vast organization smaller for a community interested in how AI can increase our impact.
That should be all of us. That’s why, though the center will be based at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, it will serve all of UF/IFAS and all of Florida.
How a building can shape us
This is not a dream. GCREC Director Jack Rechcigl has been talking this up with stakeholders for a year. They’re excited and supportive. In fact, in September I was pleased to attend the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association awards banquet where it recognized Nathan Boyd, who along with Rechcigl has been a lead visionary for the center, as its researcher of the year.
Hillsborough County has already made a seven-figure pledge, thanks to Hillsborough CED Stephen Gran. Cody Helmer is launching a fund-raising initiative. Mary Ann Hooks and Christopher Hodge are seeking legislative sponsors for state funding.
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
This building will shape us. It will give momentum to a movement. The center is our declaration that we will be in the vanguard of feeding the world in a more sustainable way. It will be a place where we accelerate the evolution of agriculture from human-labor-intensive to technology-driven.
The time is now
We need to do this now. Global spending on smart technologies such as AI and machine learning directed toward agriculture is projected to triple in the next three years. That represents great interest in scientific advance and an opportunity for us to employ the land-grant university-industry-government partnership model to make the impact we seek.
The center will be our most important facilities investment in a generation. We’ll need support from Tallahassee and possibly Washington. We’ll need people across UF/IFAS to emphasize how the center will deliver benefits across the state.
We’ll need you all to imagine a future for agriculture that the center will help create, one where technology again keeps Florida globally competitive, producing our own food, employing Floridians, contributing to the local economy, and making us a leader in feeding the world.
There have been few moments in the history of UF/IFAS when the way to create the future is so visible and reachable. We have the people to do it. The center will help unleash their talent and imagination.