Chandra Krintz has always had an admiration for agriculture, having grown up on a farm in Indiana. But her first love has always been computers.
When she was 8, her father, a junior high school teacher and principal, brought a computer home from the school for the summer so it wouldn’t be stolen, she said.
“I just dove in,” Krintz said. “I wrote my first computer program at age 8 and it changed my life. … I loved designing systems and solving problems. It’s been my life ever since.”
Now a computer science professor and researcher at University of California-Santa Barbara, Krintz has come “full circle,” she said. She’s developing a digital program called SmartFarm, which seeks to help growers identify real-time conditions in their fields and run their operations more efficiently.
“It’s Amazon.com for ag,” she said. “Amazon was the first example of a smart shop. … We want to do something analogous to that with SmartFarm.
Using tiny fence-like sensors that Krintz says are “super-cheap,” SmartFarm will virtually monitor the conditions of each plant and the soil around it and compile it with other data such as weather forecasts to show a grower specifically where the needs are.
The program, which will work as a phone or tablet app, will also enable growers to more efficiently tackle such tasks as irrigation scheduling and soil health management.
“It will make predictions of the future, like when a frost is likely to occur, so when you take actions to prevent frost damage you can do that more accurately,” Krintz said. “We work with pistachio growers, and they turn on their water when it’s 9 degrees above a hard freeze. We believe that by taking very precise measurements at the plant level, we’ll collect individual information … that will help a farmer make better decisions than what is possible today.
“Right now a farmer looks at statewide weather information and sees that it might freeze,” she said. “We can tell you, ‘These are the trees that are going to have a hard frost.’”
Krintz and fellow UCSB researcher Rich Wolski, a former chief technology officer at Eucalyptus Systems, are testing their system on a 20-acre experimental farm in a natural reserve north of Santa Barbara. They’re also collaborating through the UC Cooperative Extension with about 20 growers throughout California, Krintz said.
“We’re kind of taking it from the tech angle,” she said. “We are not farmers or ranchers, but we feel like agriculture today is underserved by technology given the boom (in digital data use).”
For Krintz, spending time on farms is all too familiar. Her family raised corn, soybeans and alfalfa on 8 acres in rural Indiana, where her father — who was also raised on a farm — passed on to her a love for the earth and soil, she said.
She moved to Southern California in the early ’90s to work in the computer industry, later earning a bachelor’s degree from California State University-Northridge and a master’s degree and doctorate in computer science from UC-San Diego. She joined the UCSB faculty in 2001.
Krintz said the SmartFarm technology will be provided free to growers, who will own the data they load into the system. The hardware will be inexpensive, and because farmers and ranchers are busy, the researchers are trying to make the system as easy as possible to use, she said.
“It has to make sense for growers,” she said.
The system will come online by the end of this year and the software will be available online for people to try, Krintz said. She said the researchers hope the technology is someday commonly used by farmers around the world.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “I think the future looks tremendously bright. Even though growers and ranchers are facing many, many challenges, there’s been such a boom on the consumer side with data analytics. Everything that’s done by Amazon, Google and Facebook can be applied to problems farmers have, and because these big, huge companies have done it for millions of people, we can do it for individuals as well.
“We have no other choice” but to make better use of technology in agriculture, Krintz said. “We have to produce enough food to feed 9 billion people by 2050, and 7 billion people today. We think automation and computing can really simplify what farmers do today. I really believe that.”
Occupation: Professor of computer science, University of California-Santa Barbara
Residence: Santa Barbara, Calif.