Harnessing Technology and Information Fusion to Enable Resilient and Sustainable Food-Water Balance under Evolving Environmental Conditions

Water and resource scarcity is often an issue in that seems somewhat removed from most of American life, but in California, many communities no longer have running water and collapsing aquifers have caused roads and buildings to sink. According to David Ebert and his team of researchers, 80 percent of California’s water usage goes to agriculture and just a 0.6 percent reduction of this agricultural usage would supply Los Angeles’ water needs for a year.

Water scarcity also poses a significant economic threat to growers in the region and beyond. Nut, wine, and grape crops contribute over $250 billion to the U.S. economy. The farming of these perennial crops consumes significant amounts of irrigation water. Due to historic drought conditions, water has become scarcer as a shared essential resource for both commercial agriculture and residential communities.

To address this grand challenge, Ebert’s research team is seeking long-term solutions to the problems caused by scarcity and while minimizing possible resource loss.

“The less you waste things because you know what the impact is going to be, the better it is both ecologically and economically,” says Ebert.

Ebert’s approach stems from understanding how data and new technologies can be turned into information that helps stakeholders make better decisions. To do this, his team will combine plant science, soil, hydrology as well as identifying key market drivers for crops to develop a human-computer decision-making system to optimize production and reduce resource scarcity. Ebert’s interdisciplinary research team made up of experts in policy, soil science, plant science, food science, sensing technology, environmental engineering, data analytics and agricultural business.

The researchers discuss what issues growers and farmers experience with water scarcity. Ebert and his team will combine grower and sensor data in the decision-making system and will develop possible business practices and commercialization models. The team will present their findings to local growers and other partners, creating usable information for agricultural producers and stakeholders, enabling them to use new best practices and devise policies to support these practices.

Ebert also plans to create scalable strategies for larger producers and growers, based on these new insights.

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“The less you waste things because you know what the impact is going to be, the better it is both ecologically and economically,” says Ebert.

Read full Purdue Newsroom press release

Team Photos

Principal Investigator: David S. Ebert, Silicon Valley Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Director, Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments

Team: Christian Butzke, professor of enology and food science; Larry DeBoer, professor of agricultural economics; Ayman Habib, professor of civil engineering; Darrell Schulze, professor of agronomy; S. Laurel Weldon, Distinguished Professor of Political Science; Director, Purdue Policy Research Institute; Jenette Ashtekar, postdoctoral researcher, agronomy; Antje Klempien, postdoctoral researcher, agronomy; Jing Liu, postdoctoral researcher, agricultural economics; Bruce Cooper, Director, Metabolomics Facility, Bindley Bioscience Center