Imaging technology to improve farm function is the goal of BAE assistant professor

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Photo of Yuzhen LuPublished: January 19, 2023

Yuzhun Lu, Ph.D., joined Michigan State University’s (MSU) Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Department as an assistant professor in January 2023. 

The USDA defines Specialty crops as “Fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” These crops typically require more human labor than row crops, as bruised and damaged crops cannot be sold to consumers at full price.

Lu’s research aims to improve specialty crop farm production using image-sensing technology. Image-sensing technology will reduce human error and decrease the need for additional manual labor. 

One of Lu’s projects focuses on how to use imaging technology to grade and sort sweet potatoes. This project is funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Multistate Program and is in partnership with four otheruniversities. The imaging technology will enable packers to automatically sort the sweet potatoes and remove those with cosmetic defects such as skinning and deformed shape. 

Blueberries are another specialty crop that is included in Lu’s research. Blueberries can potentially be infested by pests within them while on the trees. Lu is working on imaging technology to detect the infestation within the blueberries. 

“Specialty crops comprise about one-third of U.S crop cash receipts.” said Lu. “However, many specialty crops are significantly labor-intensive in production and processing. Developing labor-saving, automation technologies is important to increasing production efficiency and helping the industries to stay profitable. There is also a critical need to develop technologies to protect specialty crops from yield and quality losses from various stressors such as diseases and weeds.”  

Specialty crops aren’t the only ones benefitting from Lu’s work. He has conducted research funded by the USDA- NIFA to provide an objective assessment of chicken breast meat. The image-sensing technology looks for muscle defects, such as white striping. This will help the processing facility to sort products and only ship out high-quality meat.

“I am excited about getting started my home department at MSU where I got my PhD.” said Lu “Michigan is a leading producer for a wide range of specialty crops. There are plenty of research opportunities in developing and deploying sensing-automation technologies for specialty crop production and processing. I am looking forward to collaboration.”