USDA Funds PVAMU’s VetLink Mobile App
PVAMU’s Paul Johnson Leading the Way in Agricultural Technology
The 21st century has introduced incredible technological advancements. The evolution of technology makes real-time communication across the globe no longer a possibility but a reality. Enterprises throughout all industries, including agriculture, communicate virtually to buy and sell goods, analyze profits, and measure productivity. Even so, there is a misconception in the small-scale agricultural community of farmers and ranchers that they are not staying abreast of this technological evolution.
In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that 9.6 billion people will inhabit the earth by 2050, which continues to be an ever-growing challenge for the entire agriculture sector. Innovation in technology is ever more necessary to aid in a 70% increase in the demand for food production despite limited arable land and availability of fresh water.
In farming livestock, many farmers are located in remote or mountainous areas, and veterinarians are not always nearby when livestock become ill. Goat research is the primary animal study in the International Goat Research Center at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU). Goats are explorers and climbers and are known for occasionally escaping from their farms and getting lost or injured.
Issues like these led to the mobile goat application (app) known as VetLink, developed by Dr. Paul Johnson, a research scientist in PVAMU’s Cooperative Agricultural Research Center (CARC). Johnson recently received a grant of $249,000 and $217,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fully develop the VetLink App. Johnson was also awarded a grant for $50,000 from National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (NSF I-CORP) to seek commercialization opportunities for VetLink.
Under the Cooperative Agricultural Research Center (CARC) in the College of Agriculture and Human Sciences (CAHS) at Prairie View A&M University, it is the college’s solution to tackle this challenge for limited resource clientele in Texas. Researchers, working together with extension agents in current and prospective strike force counties across the state, work toward the goal to make an impact on the 70% increase in demand for food supply one producer at a time.
A collaborative project, under the guidance of CARC researcher Dr. Paul Johnson, is underway that leverages the technology of the current era and through incremental initiatives, advances movement toward solutions that address the Project 2050 challenges. He has developed a database of animal management issues along with an interactive blog creating a forum that helps producers working with small ruminants preserve a sustainable food source for protein nutrients supporting themselves and the greater community. The database is accessible at cahsspvd.pvamu.edu. The USDA’s Capacity Building Grant program that specifically targets 1890 land-grant institutions and its mission to serve underrepresented communities funds the project. Extension agents and specialists doing fieldwork with their producers can search the online database of multimedia resources on livestock concerns and provide answers on the spot.
The current implementation of this innovative web technology has already met success in partnership with FFA supporters at the grassroots level who share in the mission to increase awareness about the global and technological importance of agriculture to meet the growing demand for viable food sources. Joseph Reznicek of the Langham Creek FFA praised Johnson’s project showing his enthusiasm stating, “Information [on goats] is hard to come by.” Nancy Groschke, a cattle and goat rancher, raising the FFA show goats from former show contest students also found this technology feasible for her operations and credits Prairie View A&M for the success of their goat program. Training youth is an important aspect of agricultural sustainability, which prepares them for a future in livestock management and production for the market.
Similar to the popularized WebMD Internet application, “WebMD for Goats” will soon be a veterinarian counterpart, which will give producers the capability to use smart mobile devices where they submit pictures and symptoms to vets in the local area so these medical experts can respond with possible causes of illness and treatment. The web application or “app” is part of a subsequent stage of Dr. Johnson’s Novel Livestock Information Delivery System Phase 2 grant proposal. Presently, the app is in development for availability on both an Android platform and iOS. Johnson is collaborating with Computer Science Department Head, Dr. Yonggao Yang to make this vision a reality. Other implications for the future include commercializing the technology for use in telemedicine with an augmented reality component. Yang and Johnson are exemplary participants to validate the need for more collaboration between colleges and the tripartite units of the CAHS.
Dr. Johnson is also appreciative of his team of expert researchers, veterinarians, engineers, and technologist that helped develop the Novel Livestock Diagnostic and Information Delivery System concept. The team includes CARC’s former vet staff, Kellye Thompson, DVM and Barbara Johnson, DVM as well as Ashwani Srivastava from the CAHS department of marketing, communications and IT along with Carl Taylor from the Office of Distance Learning.
A key market for the VetLink App, for example, will be young people who show goats at livestock shows. Johnson also sees the VetLink App’s potential in the event of a major catastrophe. “If you have a pandemic or epidemic, you can geo-catch the location and then form a perimeter around that (contaminated) area to prevent further outbreak,” he added.
A Jamaican native, Johnson came to PVAMU and majored in Animal Science. After finishing his masters in 1993 he obtained a job as a research technician at the International Goat Center. He has since built an impressive resume on goat farming and worked on the Decision Support System funded by USDA, which involved developing value-added products from goat meat. He’s been a self-starter throughout his career and built the first web page for his department. He has also developed videos and presentations for the department. In addition, taught himself how to use software that could aid and enhance his research activities.
As for what inspired him to develop the VetLink App, Johnson states he let the potential for success take precedence over concern about possible setbacks. “I didn’t focus on the challenge,” he declares. “I focused on the opportunity.”
Author: Maurice Perkins