<OL> <LI> Adapt biological concepts associated with specialty crop production, harvest, and postharvest handling into quantifiable parameters which can be sensed <LI> Develop sensors and sensing systems which can measure and interpret the parameters<LI> Design and evaluate automation systems which incorporate varying degrees of mechanization and sensors to assist specialty crop industries with labor, management decisions, and reduction of production costs <LI>Work in partnership with equipment and technology manufacturers to commercialize and implement the outcomes of this project
Non-Technical Summary: The continuing trend of declining available labor, combined with an increasing consumer desire for a safe and high quality food supply, the pressure of global competition, and the need to minimize the environmental footprint, represents challenges for specialty crop sustainability in the US. Producers and processors are urgently seeking new devices and systems which will aid them during production, harvesting, sorting, storing, processing, packaging, marketing, and transportation while also minimizing input costs. Currently, there is a lack of effective and efficient sensors and automation systems for specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery). This is because many of the underlying biological processes related to quality and condition of fruits and vegetables are difficult to translate into engineering concepts. Biological variability, coupled with the variable environmental factors, makes it difficult to develop sensors and automation systems for effective implementation at various stages of the production, harvest and postharvest handling chain. Additionally, obtaining measurement of biological factors internal to the commodity is difficult using external, nondestructive sensors, as such devices or processes used must adapt to a wide variation in shape, size, and maturity of the commodity being processed. It is a challenge for any single specialty crop sector to afford the cost of research, development, and commercialization of this complex level of automation. It is thus important to assist this economically vital agricultural sector with sensor and automation research and development to address economic and environmental sustainability challenges. This project will investigate spectral properties of materials and electronic sensor technology which have the potential to detect and quantify differences in biological materials, whether the differences be physical or chemical based. Timely monitoring and measurement of biological factors can assist producers in reducing input costs, maximizing returns, and minimizing the environmental footprint. <P> Approach: The methods and general procedure of this project include studying, identifying, and increasing knowledge of properties of biological materials that potentially change and are related to important information for optimizing production and handling of various specialty crops. This also includes understanding environmental factors that influence production. More specifically, develop an understanding of biological (physical or chemical) factors that are indicators of maturity, storage potential, or other processing or marketability potential as well as orchard environmental factors such as insect or disease pressure which impact production. This will be accomplished through literature and working in collaboration with horticulture, entomology, and pathology scientists to understand what factors can potentially be monitored to more precisely manage a commodity from production to consumer. The project will identify spectroscopic and spectral imaging electronic technologies, capable of detecting and potentially quantifying the various quality or production influencing factors. Additionally, the potential exist to identify bio-based sensors to detect food safety and/or airborne organisms that are of importance to the specialty crop system. The project will then narrow focus to a limited number of factors to address based on importance to the specialty crop industries, the availability of measurement instrumentation, and the potential for successful development. Samples of factors to be measured, such as fruit, insects, diseased tissues, etc. will be collected and measured with appropriate laboratory-based spectral and image instrumentation and compared against ground truth basis measurements. Evaluation of concepts will be based on the ability to successfully detect the desired factor(s) and the potential for practical implementation based on cost and ability to transfer technology to a field-based system. The final procedure will be to develop dedicated instrumentation which can be tested as a field-based prototype.