Automation scientist leads precision ag systems


PROSSER – Qin Zhang, a professor in the department of biological systems engineering and a senior scientist in agricultural automation, is the new director of WSU’s Center for Precision Agricultural Systems headquartered in Prosser.

Zhang, who has served as assistant director of CPAS for the past year, assumed his new responsibilities on July 1. He succeeds Francis J. Pierce, professor in the departments of crop and soil sciences and biological systems engineering and founding director of CPAS.
Pierce is the newly elected president of the American Society of Agronomy, and in addition to those responsibilities, will be working on a number of continuing major research projects and grants.
“Dr. Pierce has established a strong foundation on which Dr. Zhang can build,” said Ralph Cavalieri, associate dean and director of the WSU Agricultural Research Center. “The success and growth of CPAS under Fran’s leadership has been remarkable; it is definitely ready to go to the next level.”
Among the accomplishments during Pierce’s period of leadership is the creation of the Agricultural Weather Network, the establishment of the horticultural automation emphasis of CPAS and the center’s role in the development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
Prior to joining WSU in 2009, Zhang was a professor of off-road equipment engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. Before that, he worked at Caterpillar Inc. as a senior engineer.
His teaching and research activities focus on mobile mechatronics and agricultural infotronics. Mobile mechatronics integrates mechanics, electronics and automation to support the basic automation functions for off-road equipment. Agricultural infotronics is an emerging work site management technology for collecting, processing and utilizing production information “on the go” during field operations. His current research focuses on the development and implementation of automated technologies for specialty crops production.
Based on his research, Zhang has written a textbook, four book chapters and published numerous peer-reviewed articles and presentations. He has been awarded nine U.S. patents. He holds a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, his masters from the University of Idaho and his ‘s degree from Zhejiang Agricultural University in China.