innovative Research

As big data continues to redefine processes and possibilities in agriculture, Purdue University helps lead the way through innovative, interdisciplinary research. This convergence of technology in agriculture is driving the industry forward across many applications.

Agriculture is an area ripe for technological acceleration; however, the data processing, computation, communication and storage requirements of research programs expands exponentially. To advance the field, Purdue partners with programs, organizations, and initiatives to reach shared objectives. Purdue is collaborating with information technology companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprise to combine Internet of Things (IoT) and high-performance computing to gather, transmit and analyze field and lab data to reduce the time to discovery.

Researchers in forestry, plants, animals, natural resources and human well-being incorporate the newest applications of technology to make faster and more informed decisions than ever before.

Revolutionary imaging systems raise the speed and accuracy of plant data collection through phenotyping, contributing to the fight against global hunger. UAVs pair with high-speed internet to capture and transfer valuable information in real time. Digital agriculture provides new ways to monitor livestock without human intervention, optimizing the contribution and well-being of individual animals. By incorporating the tools of digital agriculture, we can monitor and preserve forests and natural resources. New technologies and their adoption present opportunities to collect and transmit data in increasingly remote areas.

Research Areas

Digital agriculture and applied data science for agriculture encompass a wide range of topic areas. Purdue researchers within the College of Agriculture and beyond are working in these areas to improve agricultural and forestry efficiency, productivity and sustainability through modern, data-driven technologies.


dairy cow with ankle deviceEnhancing the production efficiency, quality and safety of meat, milk, fiber, and other animal products can be greatly enhanced by employing digital technologies.  Sensors on animals can enhance decisions related to managing animal health, improving comfort, and increasing production.  Automation can help streamline repetitive processes and accomplish difficult tasks, saving costs and helping to reduce human error.  Added insights of sensors, including image and video, can offer tailored intervention otherwise impractical in large-scale operations.

digital agriculture robotUsing robotic operations to accomplish repetitive or difficult tasks in biological systems can reduce production expenses, enhance consistency, and free humans to accomplish other duties.  Examples include machine weeding around plants, robotic milking of dairy cows, robots that harvest nuts, fruits, and vegetables, or automation of implement control such as section controllers on sprayers, boom height, tillage implement depth, combine threshing/cleaning settings, and navigation.

researcher and student at computerAs sensor data becomes more available and our ability to store and move data increases, our need to manage and extract insights from data increases.

We are turning data into insights – even unassisted action – through artificial intelligence, visualization, and virtual models of physical, biological, chemical and social phenomena.  But collecting, moving, managing, visualizing, analyzing, and interpreting data from disparate systems has significant technical as well as social challenges.

student in forest with digital toolsResearchers are working towards developing platforms and strategies that leverage digital technology to measure, monitor and manage urban and rural forests to maximize social, economic and ecological benefits. At Purdue University the Integrated Digital Forestry Initiative (IDiF) brings together a multidisciplinary research team to revolutionize forestry with an effective digital system for precision forest management and build a globally competitive next generation workforce for the information age. Learn more at

professor at whiteboardFor digital agriculture to be successful, it must be economically viable, and be environmentally and socially sustainable as well.  In addition, digital technologies can enable new impacts well beyond production environments, such as product traceability and enabling environmental incentives.  As digital agriculture encompasses a related set of technologies that are often used differently depending on the region and production environment, it is difficult to make general statements about the economics or reasons for adopting digital agriculture.

man in field of cornField crop production has been a leading area for digital agriculture in many places around the world, due in part to large scale and mechanization.  Machine guidance and site-specific input application is commonplace.  Natural variations in soil characteristics, spatially and temporally managing water, nutrients, and pesticides offer great opportunities to add value.  Automation is poised to change production environments in the coming years.

man in food processing facility at computerAll humans have a connection to agriculture through the food chain. Sensors and systems from harvest through consumption help to improve quality and safety. Added value can come through identity preservation (traceability) and associated marketing which relies on accurate trait, transport, and processing records.  Post-harvest systems in developing countries are particularly in need of improvement.

pipettesPlant breeders, engineers, computer scientists, and aviation scientists are collaborating in a space that impacts our entire food production system – the field.  Once laborious and time-consuming processes are now automated for measuring characteristics such as plant height, nitrogen content, and photosynthetic activity. The process of measuring and analyzing observable plant characteristics, phenotyping, allows researchers to observe and measure from remote sensors in the air and on the ground under variable environmental conditions. Understanding this variation will help farmers and plant breeders grow better crops regardless of the environment, and allow researchers to more quickly identify how and why genes are expressed.

uav in air over sorghumSensors that can quantify factors related to crop, animal, and woodland production and environmental management are the foundations of digital management.  When those sensors are interconnected and communicate in real time, that concept is Internet of Things, or IoT.  Sensors can be mounted on satellites, airplanes, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, ground-driven implements, or in fixed or semi-fixed locations on plants or animals or in the soil.  Common measurements include geographic coordinates, electromagnetic reflectance within the visible, near infrared, thermal, and other spectrums, temperature, pressure, speed, resistance, vibration, and humidity.

tomatoes on the vineThe economic and societal importance of vegetables, tree fruits and nuts, berries, grapes, nursery and greenhouse production, as well as specialty grains and oilseeds offers boundless opportunities for implementing digital agriculture.  Challenges include the many unique production environments that characterize specialty crop production, the critical importance of product quality and time sensitivity of many operations.

Top Purdue Resources

field of oats
Open Ag Technologies and Systems Group (OATS)

The OATS Center is bringing an open source culture to agriculture.

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ripe red apples on tree
Open Ag Data Alliance (OADA)

The Open Ag Data Alliance is an open-source project for agricultural data.

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filed of corn
Institute for Plant Sciences

The Institute for Plant Sciences strengthens plant-research programs at Purdue.

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aerial lidar image of forest
Integrated Digital Forestry Initiative

Digital Forestry efforts at Purdue are leveraging digital technology and multidisciplinary...

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grocery store aisle
Center for Food Demand Analysis and Sustainability

The CFDAS at Purdue tracks consumer insights and the economics of the food system to produce...

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Research Story

Research Story

Research team in field
Long-range networks facilitate convenient producer data collection

Farming has forever and will always require efficiency and vigilance. Producers have long looked for ways to keep one eye on their fields at all times, a need that led to the implementation of technology such as UAVs and soil sensors and testing.

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Digital Agriculture News

a robotic arm reaches out to touch a corn plant leaf. you can see the Sheeraz Athar, Jian Jin, and Yu She in the where the arm bends
How robots touch on the future of agriculture

Walking into Purdue’s Mechanisms And Robotic Systems (MARS) Lab feels like falling into a...

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Jingjing Liang stands tall in front of a wall of monitors showing pictures of different forests.
Scientists from dozens of countries coming to Purdue for forestry collaboration in Science-i Bridging Worlds Workshop

In the spirit of building a community to manage and protect the world’s forests, Liang and...

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Different varieties of rice growing in a field
Machine-learning model demonstrates effect of public breeding on rice yields in climate change

Climate change, extreme weather events, unprecedented records in temperatures and higher, acidic...

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Farm Foundation
Feb. 2024 Forum, Seeds of Change: Exploring AI Solutions for Agriculture Today and Tomorrow

The February 2024 Farm Foundation® Forum, Seeds of Change: Exploring AI Solutions for...

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Adam Shanks - calculating data
Private databases for your farm

Private databases have many applications in agriculture and beyond, such as home life and...

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AI Team
AI & Climate: A First Of Its Kind Conversation On The Hill

AI2 partnered with the Bezos Earth Fund on a landmark event focused on AI & Climate with...

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