Applications of AI Technology in Agriculture

  • Irrigation Systems
  • Harvesting and Processing Robotics
  • Forecasting Systems
  • Smart Weed and Feed Assessment
  • Identifying Soil Problems

While many may still see AI as a part of the realm of science fiction, scientists, farmers, and tech enthusiasts are working to develop applications of artificial intelligence in the agricultural industry. Given the fact that agricultural products and pursuits contributed one percent growth to the U.S. GDP in 2016—no small accomplishment—finding smarter, more cost-effective ways to grow food and materials in a more ecologically sound approach is vital.

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1. Irrigation Regulation

When AI comes to mind, many may envision Hal from 2001 or even a more benign manifestation from some other sci-fi classic. However, as it is known today, artificial intelligence refers to computer programs that assess and compare gathered data with previously established data sets to solve a specific problem. In reference to irrigation in modern monoculture, AI helps to evaluate the need for more or less water, potential replanting zones, and areas that require further human attention. The use of drones with multi-spectrum cameras and machine learning technology allows farmers and agronomists to complete what is ordinarily a more labor-intensive process more quickly and accurately.

2. Automated Harvesting and Processing Applications

While many of the AI breakthroughs are based mostly on software, there are hardware components. Human involvement in harvesting practices is being reduced by utilizing machines designed to harvest without damaging produce. According to Towards AI, the robotics company CROO has developed robotics that can harvest and pack 8 acres of strawberries per day. This would take the place of 30 human laborers. And can be expanded to harvest crops that require similarly intensive human involvement. While farmers may still elect to use some human assistance in conjunction with harvesting and packing machines, this application could change the face of industrial agriculture in the United States.

3. Forecasting Systems

While no one can fault the Farmer’s Almanac, with its impressive record for correct planting and harvesting forecasts, we live in an increasingly dynamic world climate. This overall ecosystem impacts how more regional systems develop and evolve. And the primary function of computers, specifically how software is designed and implemented in the 21st century, is to reduce the amount of time humans spend on calculation and assessment of complex interactions and data sets. AI can and does provide more detailed and accurate interpretations of input data, such as pressure and precipitation, annual snowfall, and observed behavior of large weather systems such as El Nino and La Nina. They can predict when planting, harvesting, and application of inputs should be done with a high degree of accuracy.

4. Spot On Weed and Feed

It’s no secret that industrialized agriculture uses both fertilizers and herbicides on fields. However, what’s also apparent is that excessive application of these substances is both needlessly expensive and harmful to the environment. Whatever the fields cannot use or do not need ends up in the ground and surface water supplies. Using equipment fitted with machine learning programs designed to spot weeds and apply herbicides only as necessary, farmers will not only save on inputs but also reduce their use of these chemicals. The case for economy in the use of fertilizers follows a similar logic.

5. Identifying Soil Problems

Industrialized monoculture, with its calculation of chemical inputs and expected productivity levels, tends to rob the soil of its natural resilience. While there’s little indication that the system will evolve to consider concepts such as soil biomes any time soon, what scientists have done is develop learning software that assesses soil health and posits solutions to detected issues. These issues can range from too much of one input and not enough of another to conditions that foster infestation or disease.

The point of any technology is to improve the standard of living and to solve existing or potential problems in any human endeavor. AI does this, although it has yet to reach the level of integration many futurists forecast. The application of artificial intelligence in the agricultural industry offers many hope that human communities everywhere will continue to thrive in the face of a rapidly shifting global climate.