MSU Graduate Student Studies Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Agricultural Insights

Dakota Hester (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Gathering valuable agricultural and environmental data from the ground poses challenges, but an MSU graduate student is enhancing artificial intelligence’s utilization of remote sensing data for improved insights.

Dakota Hester, a first-generation doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Mississippi State University, is concluding a competitive, half-year internship as a machine learning scientist at Bayer, a multinational healthcare and agriculture company.

Hester’s expertise focuses on enhancing deep-learning land cover mapping, which holds significant implications for agriculture and forestry. His research at Bayer Crop Science aligns closely with his ongoing graduate studies at MSU, aiming to enhance the efficiency of remote sensing technologies such as satellite data and aerial imagery to enhance understanding of agricultural processes and natural resources affordably.

“Remote sensing offers a prime avenue to expand our knowledge of natural resources and crop growth without the need for constant on-the-ground monitoring,” stated Hester. “By reaching a certain resolution, we can extract significantly more information than previously available thanks to advancements in satellite, remote sensing, and artificial intelligence technologies over the past decade to fifteen years.”

“Bayer has provided me with exposure to innovative tools and technologies. I look forward to applying some of their methodologies back in our research laboratory,” added Hester.

While Hester’s work at Bayer predominantly revolves around agriculture, his endeavors in MSU’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering aim to utilize deep learning for statewide mapping.

“My time at MSU has broadened my horizons in many ways. Without the research conducted here, I doubt I would have secured this internship,” shared Hester. “I’ve had the privilege of engaging with numerous brilliant scientists and researchers worldwide, and that, to me, is the highlight—it’s the people.”

The Tishomingo native attributes his fascination with agricultural science to his father, a field mechanic for a logging equipment provider.

“Especially during school breaks, he would take me into the field with him. I gained firsthand exposure to the natural resources sector,” recounted Hester. “It profoundly influenced my later academic pursuits, shifting my focus from programming and software engineering to natural sciences and resources—exploring how we can maximize the value from Mississippi’s natural growth.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from MSU in 2021, Hester served as a graduate research assistant in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts, focusing on an AI-driven application that accurately identifies wood species through surface scans.

In 2023, Hester transitioned to the research lab of Assistant Professor Vitor S. Martins in agricultural and biological engineering, where he currently investigates deep machine learning. He intends to persist in this field post-doctorate, expected in 2025.

The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Mississippi State University concentrates on engineering and technology within agriculture and natural resources, encompassing autonomous agricultural systems, precision agriculture, ecological engineering, and sustainable energy. The department spans across the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bagley College of Engineering, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, and MSU Extension Service. To learn more about the department, visit www.abe.msstate.edu.

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