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CDA Collaborates to Launch $25 Million CROPPS Initiative

Illinois CROPPS team, group photo

Illinois CROPPS team. From left: Stephen Moose (Crop Sciences); Cabral Bigman-Galimore (Communication); Vikram Adve (Computer Science); German Bollero (Crop Sciences); and Anthony Studer (Crop Sciences) Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Researchers from the Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA) at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) will be part of the newly-announced Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems (CROPPS). The new Center will work to leverage digital solutions and techniques for understanding how plants interact and communicate.

Initially funded for five years, the Center is a collaborative effort featuring researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cornell University, the Boyce Thompson Institute and the University of Arizona. CROPPS will be funded by a $25-million tech grant investment from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and will seek to leverage both existing collaborations between these institutions and Illinois’ expertise at the confluence of agriculture and computational research, including at NCSA.

Once established, the Center will be able to build on existing collaboration and proof-of-concept digital agriculture research by scaling it up to larger research projects. This could include anything from research and use of autonomous technologies to newly employed sensors on leaves or in soil, or even gene-editing nanoparticles.

CROPPS will bridge a crucial gap between digital transformation and practical research, and will help expand the utility of technology as a tool for optimizing agriculture, from crop yield to nutrient intake and beyond.

Read the full press release from the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences here:

URBANA, Ill. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday an investment of $25 million to launch the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems (CROPPS). The center, a partnership among the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cornell University, the Boyce Thompson Institute, and the University of Arizona, aims to develop tools to listen and talk to plants and their associated organisms.

“CROPPS will create systems where plants communicate their hidden biology to sensors, optimizing plant growth to the local environment. This Internet of Living Things (IoLT) will enable breakthrough discoveries, offer new educational opportunities, and open transformative opportunities for productive, sustainable, and profitable management of crops,” says Steve Moose, the grant’s principal investigator at Illinois. Moose is a genomics professor in the Department of Crop Sciences, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

As an example of what’s possible, CROPPS scientists could deploy armies of autonomous rovers to monitor and modify crop growth in real time. The researchers created leaf sensors to report on belowground processes in roots. This combination of machine and living sensors will enable completely new ways of decoding the language of plants, allowing researchers to teach plants how to better handle environmental challenges.

Read the full press release here.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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