As a child growing up in Koderma, India, Manisha Ajmani was fascinated with learning how things worked and had an appreciation for agriculture. She shares how this shaped her decision to apply her electronics engineering degree to agriculture and help to enhance efficiency and productivity on the farm. 

Where do you work?

I work as a Research Project Manager for the TerraByte project in the Physics and Computer Science departments at the University of Winnipeg. I have a background in electronics engineering with a PhD from the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK. We are currently working on a project where we automatically generate a labeled dataset of crops and weeds, and use this data to develop machine learning models which can identify weeds from crops and detect plant diseases. This will help in monitoring crop health, identifying weeds, pests, and disease, and improve growing conditions by eliminating threats.

I am also a key organizer of Soapbox Science Winnipeg, a novel public outreach platform that promotes women and non-binary scientists. Through this initiative, we provide a platform where they can share their scientific contributions and inspire future generations.  

Describe your job in one sentence.

I oversee TerraByte’s resource allocation, budget management, and project communication to ensure the efficient execution of our digital agriculture research while engaging stakeholders effectively.

What was your dream job when you were a kid?

As a child, I was always fascinated by how things work. I used to disassemble my toys and reassemble them, and most of the time they would still work! As a part of a school trip, we went to a science fair and I discovered electricity generation using potatoes with simple electronic components which amazed me a lot. I always dreamt of a career in engineering, driven by a desire to contribute to research for societal benefit. This dream also ignited my passion for promoting women in STEM fields. 

What was your first job in the agriculture or agri-food sector?

I began my journey with TerraByte at the University of Winnipeg, where I currently work as a Research Project Manager. I’ve enjoyed working with the TerraByte team a lot. My education gave me experience working with machine learning models and AI, and when I came to TerraByte I learned new skills in management. So I grew, not just in terms of technical skills, but managerial skills too. 

What brought you to your current role?

Growing up in India, I witnessed the profound importance of agriculture. India has a huge population of 1.3 billion people, and agriculture creates jobs for so many. Agriculture keeps India’s pulse strong by supporting the economy. 

Recognizing this, I aspired to channel my technical and management skills into projects benefiting the public. Joining TerraByte was a dream come true as it allowed me to share my expertise with industry experts, and create something impactful for the public. My role at TerraByte is not just a job; it’s a chance to use my skills to innovate and make a real difference in our community through agriculture.

How does digital agriculture or agtech play a role in your current job?

At TerraByte, we work with EMILI at Innovation Farms to leverage cutting-edge agtech to automate the creation of labeled crop datasets. Through machine learning, we are working to identify crops, pests, and diseases, enhancing precision in agriculture. 

What’s something that surprised you when you started working in digital agriculture?

I was surprised by the diverse skills needed in digital agriculture. It’s not just about farming expertise; it involves a blend of tech skills, data analysis, and management skills. Modern farming is like a group project where different talents join forces.

Why do you think digital agriculture is important for farming?

Digital agriculture is like giving farmers a high-tech toolbox. It helps them use resources wisely, make informed decisions, and boosts efficiency. With smart tools, farming becomes more precise, productive, and sustainable.

How would you describe digital agriculture to someone outside the sector?

Digital agriculture is modern farming with technology, helping farmers make smart choices, use resources efficiently, and boost productivity for a sustainable future. It’s like giving traditional farming a tech upgrade.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in digital agriculture? 

Go for it! When I started working at TerraByte initially, I thought a lot of people there would come from a farming background. But I realized digital agriculture is a mixture of skill sets from different fields coming together, and creating something to benefit agriculture. Stay curious, keep learning, and be part of the awesome journey to make farming smart and sustainable!

More about EMILI’s collaboration with TerraByte

EMILI’s Innovation Farms is a 5,500 acre farm where innovators across industry and academia can test and validate their agricultural technologies. Last summer, TerraByte tested their weed identification algorithm at Innovation Farms to identify weeds in a soybean crop with over 92% accuracy. This footage will be added to a publicly accessible database to train machine learning models to identify weeds. Learn more about the collaboration here.  

Where can people learn more about Soapbox Science?

Soapbox Science is a public outreach platform where female and non-binary scientists share their STEM research with the general public using layman’s terms and props. The dual mission of Soapbox Science is to promote the visibility of female and non-binary scientists as well as the work they do in the STEM field. Soapbox Science aims to increase gender diversity in the field of STEM by addressing gender bias and encouraging more people to work in STEM.

EMILI is a proud sponsor of Soapbox Science. Learn more about their amazing work and apply to be a speaker at their upcoming event here

Soapbox Science in the news

This profile is part of EMILI’s This is Agriculture series, highlighting talented and diverse individuals across the digital agriculture sector. While individuals working in agriculture come from a variety of backgrounds, they share a common interest in growing and strengthening Canadian agriculture to ensure an environmentally and economically sustainable future for generations to come.