Designing an Uber for agriculture
Credit: UT Arlington
An expert in logistics at The University of Texas at Arlington is designing a better way for farmers to move crops and livestock to market through crowdsourced transportation programs, akin to an agricultural Uber.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development program awarded Caroline Krejci, assistant professor in the Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering Department, a five-year, $532,585 grant to further her research.
Commercial crowd logistics platforms tend to be highly automated, automatically assigning drivers to users and preventing users from having any say in the process. Krejci envisions a decentralized system where users can choose a person they trust for the job. This gives the user more control and autonomy with less cost because they can make informed decisions and not pay additional platform fees.
“Most commercial crowd logistics platforms have a provider making a profit on top of the fees paid to drivers. Farmers don’t want to pay a 30% fee to middlemen to move their products from place to place,” Krejci said. “We’re trying to see if we can adapt the model to a smaller scale where the participants aren’t all necessarily trying to make a lot of money, but instead to provide a service to their communities.”
Krejci will use agent-based modeling to simulate the interactions between farmers and drivers and talk to farmers to get a truer sense of what would motivate their decisions to use or not use the platform.
“Trust is a huge issue, but convenience and cost are also important,” she said. “Being able to offload transportation to someone they trust who is also affordable is attractive to farmers.”
This grant will build upon funding Krejci received in 2019 to help small- and mid-scale farmers and ranchers in Texas get their products to market through collaborative transportation and aggregation, opening avenues for cost savings and easier delivery.
The Faculty Early Career Development Program is the NSF’s most prestigious award for junior faculty. Winners are outstanding researchers, but also are expected to be outstanding teachers through research, educational excellence and the integration of education and research at their home institutions.
“Logistics is a critical area, as we’ve discovered with the recent disruptions to global supply chains,” said Paul Componation, chair of the Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering Department. “Dr. Krejci is one of our rising stars, and she’s uniquely positioned for this research, as the DFW area is a central hub for U.S. commerce.
“It’s also noteworthy that she involves so many of her students, both undergraduate and graduate, in her research. It’s a hallmark of our program that there are faculty like her who take a personal interest in their students’ success and take steps to give them hands-on educational experiences.”
– Written by Jeremy Agor, College of Engineering