Data-driven decision making is at the core of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). To support this effort, Extension will receive a software makeover with $2.7 million in strategic funding from the office of UF President Ben Sasse.
“IFAS is one of UF’s powerhouses, positively shaping the future of Florida’s agricultural industry,” Sasse said. “The Modernizing IFAS Extension Through AI project will allow IFAS to do so much more with the aid of technology, enhancing its productivity and furthering sustainable farming practices statewide.”
The vision is to upgrade the UF/IFAS Extension on the UF campus and across Extension offices in 67 counties by embedding state-of-the-art business intelligence software systems into the technology infrastructure. The technology will use artificial intelligence (AI) to collect, store and analyze data produced by Extension agents and programs.
Andra Johnson, dean of the UF/IFAS Extension and the director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, said the improved technology will allow for better engagement across Extension.
“The upgrades to UF/IFAS Extension’s technology infrastructure through business intelligence and AI applications will not only allow Extension to expand its reach to meet the needs of more Floridians, but it will also allow for better engagement with other units across UF,” Johnson said. “We are getting tailor-made solutions to complex problems into the hands of those who need it the most. The benefits to our Extension personnel and those they serve will be substantial via better data collection, analysis and application.”
Connecting Extension to Floridians
Christian Christensen, the director of Hastings Agricultural Extension Center and Extension Business Intelligence, said incorporating business intelligence software into the UF/IFAS Extension means faculty and staff can bring UF’s innovative research and educational prowess directly to the people Extension serves.
“At UF/IFAS Extension, with integrity as our guiding principle, we’re utilizing this funding to enhance UF’s groundbreaking research and education. Our AI integration is about bringing UF’s expertise directly to the diverse communities of our state,” Christensen said. “With this funding, UF/IFAS Extension is breaking down technological barriers, channeling UF’s advancements in AI to ensure everyone – irrespective of location – has access to the latest agricultural insights and tools.”
The analytical tools will allow Extension professionals to make smarter and more proactive decisions, provide timely solutions and measure program effectiveness. For example, better analysis of water resources and water usage could have an impact on water-saving techniques, leading to a significant number of gallons of water conserved via improved irrigation practices by agriculture and homeowners alike.
Enhanced outreach programs with data-driven solutions could lead to optimized agricultural yields, better farming practices and increased economic returns for farmers and ranchers. These solutions will complement the hands-on experience and institutional expertise of Extension personnel and empower them to do their work easier with more tools.
Support for the Modernizing IFAS Extension Through AI project comes from the $130 million in new funding that UF received from the Florida Legislature this year.