Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering

Research Overview

Increasing population and shifting climate and social patterns raise major concerns for global food security.  Increased production and intensification of both plant and animal agriculture to address these concerns will require greater use of automation and precision management to improve resource use efficiency and overall sustainability.

California is a leader in specialty crop production with more than 400 commodities and an annual worth of more than $47 billion, but this production is also labor, energy and nutrient intensive and relies heavily on irrigation. Significant opportunities exist for new and smarter engineered production systems to help maintain the competitiveness of the state’s agricultural industry. Research covers a wide array of topics including the following examples:

  • Mechanization and automation for animal and plant systems
  • New technologies for precision agriculture, sensing, automation and control
  • Advances in hydrology, irrigation and drainage, air and water quality, soil and water engineering
  • Aquacultural systems for fish culture and conservation
  • New sources of protein in foods and feeds
  • Sustainable replacements to agricultural chemicals and fumigants
  • Specialized technologies for international agricultural development
  • Biomechanics and engineering solutions for improved occupational safety and health
  • Forest and landscape management and protection

Click here to see more examples and potential career paths in Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering.


Recent Research Results

Increasing Automation and Control Using 3D Reconstruction System for Plants

Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering Biological and Agricultural Engineering UC Davis 3d Camera System
Mechanical structure (a) of the 3D reconstruction system: (b) the arc holding ten Canon EOS Rebel T3 cameras; (c) a pair of cameras where the second camera is upside down relative to the first one; (d) structured light devices and their power adapters with a relay controlled by a digital I/O control NI USB-6008; (e) a turn-table that rotates the plant 360 degrees; and (f) the target plant.

"Structured Light-Based 3D Reconstruction System for Plant": Full 3D reconstruction system that incorporates both hardware structures (including the proposed structured light system to enhance textures on object surfaces) and software algorithms (including the proposed 3D point cloud registration and plant feature measurement)...Experimental results show that, for plants having a range of leaf sizes and a distance between leaves appropriate for the hardware design, the algorithms successfully predict phenotyping features in the target crops, with a recall of 0.97 and a precision of 0.89 for leaf detection and less than a 13-mm error for plant size, leaf size and internode distance.

Nguyen, T.T., Slaughter, D.C., Max, N., Maloof, J.N. and Sinha, N., 2015. Structured light-based 3D reconstruction system for plants. Sensors, 15(8), pp.18587-18612.

Continuous Leaf Monitoring to Inform Irrigation Scheduling

UC Davis Agircultural and Natural Resources Engineering Leaf Monitor Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Leaf monitor installed on (left) walnut tree (picture taken before installing dome) and (right) almond tree for field testing.

"Development of a Continuous Leaf Monitoring System to Predict Plant Water Status": Leaf temperature is a good indicator of water stress. In this study, a system was developed to monitor leaf temperature and microclimatic environmental variables to predict plant water stress. This system, called the leaf monitor, monitored plant water status by continuously measuring leaf temperature, air temperature, relative humidity, ambient light, and wind conditions in the vicinity of a shaded leaf...The system was found to be reliable and capable of providing real-time visualization of the data remotely, with minimal technical problems. Leaf monitor data were used to develop modified crop water stress index (MCWSI) values for quantifying plant water stress levels.

UC Davis Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering Leaf Monitor
Comparison of the diurnal patterns of ΔT and SWP for (a) almond and (b) walnut trees.


Irrigation Management Strategies for Sorghum

"Evaluating Deficit Irrigation Management Strategies for Grain Sorghum Using AquaCrop": Many wells in the US Central Plains can no longer meet full crop water requirements due to declines in Ogallala aquifer water levels. A study was conducted in Southwest Kansas to determine optimum limited irrigation strategies for grain sorghum. Objectives were to (1) calibrate and validate the AquaCrop model, (2) apply AquaCrop to assess the effect of varying climate, planting dates, and soil types on yield, and (3) evaluate water productivities and optimal irrigation needs. Experimental data of grain sorghum were used to calibrate and validate AquaCrop...Fluctuations in grain sorghum prices had a substantial impact on economic water productivity. Overall planting grain sorghum under optimum conditions combined with deficit irrigation improved water productivity.

Irrigation UC Davis Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering
The relationship between evapotranspiration and water supply (a, b), biomass and water supply (c, d) and grain yield and water supply (e, f) in sand (a, c, e) and silt loam (b, d, f) soils of southwest Kansas. Note that there are three scenarios [irrigation scenarios (n = 8) × climate scenarios (n = 3) × planting date (n = 3)] in this figure which makes total n = 72 for each soils)

Araya, A., Kisekka, I. and Holman, J., 2016. Evaluating deficit irrigation management strategies for grain sorghum using AquaCrop. Irrigation science, 34(6), pp.465-481.

Evaluating Biomechanical Lumbopelvic Rhythm Differences

Lumbopelvic Rythm UC Davis Biomechanical Agricultural and Natural Resources Engineering
Definition of lumbar angle and pelvic angles.

"Differences in Lumbopelvic Rhythm Between Trunk Flexion and Extention": The current study investigated the differences in lumbopelvic rhythm between trunk flexion and extension, and how the rhythm changed within each of the two motions. Thirteen subjects performed pace-controlled trunk flexion/extension motions in the sagittal plane while lumbar and pelvis kinematics data were recorded, such that the lumbopelvic continuous relative phase and phase variability could be calculated to quantify lumbopelvic rhythm. Trunk extension motion had significantly smaller lumbopelvic continuous relative phase and phase variability than flexion motion, which indicated a more in-phase and stable rhythm. Additionally, the lumbopelvic rhythm within trunk extension motion changed from a more in-phase and stable pattern to a more out-of-phase and unstable pattern; by contrast, the opposite change (from out-of-phase and unstable to in-phase and stable) was observed in trunk flexion.