Emerging in Agriculture: AI Eases the Farmer’s Burden

AI is trailblazing through various sectors, making drastic improvements we didn’t even know we needed. Today, we will cover the impact of AI on the long-blooming agricultural industry. Artificial intelligence has helped increase yield by lessening issues faced by farmers applying traditional farming methods.

The Problem

The world has a population of about 8 billion, projected to be around 9 billion by 2050, with an annual population growth rate of 0.9%. With this growth, agricultural production will need to increase by about 70% to satisfy the needs of all these people.

The agricultural process consists of preparing the soil, sowing seeds, adding fertilizers, irrigating, eliminating pests, harvesting, and storing. The increasing population directly correlates to increasing strain on agricultural production and water sources. A global farm labor shortage has pressured current farmers to deal with pressures related to pests that destroy around 40% of crops every year. The lost or wasted food accounts for as much as 17% of total food production and 38% of the energy usage for the agricultural system, wasting production resources and capital.

AI as a Solution

Artificial intelligence can mimic human learning via processing algorithms and finding patterns within large data sets. This automated process can aid agricultural production factors such as climate, nutrition, and weed prevention. For example, AI can forecast weather conditions and determine what type of crop would thrive when. Some forms of AI have predictive capabilities which can predict weather conditions, scan crops for disease or nutrient deficiencies, and even regulate temperature or precipitation to facilitate successful crop growth.

Artificial intelligence is already aiding the growth of agriculture. For instance, AppHarvest is a greenhouse in Appalachia, Kentucky which claims to yield 30 times more per acre than traditional farming with 90% less water. They use 300 sensors that collect data and monitor the greenhouse climate to provide nutrients and water without waste. The greenhouse uses a form of agricultural robotics, or robots trained to perform multiple tasks within farming fields at much higher speeds and volumes than humans. AppHarvest uses its AI-powered robot, Virgo, to collect data from around 700,000 plants and determine harvest times. The robot is even equipped with a robotic arm to harvest the produce mechanically.

Plenty, an AI-based startup in San Fransico, assures that crops can be grown annually with 95% less water and as much as 99% less land through vertical farming, which integrates layers of crops into skyscraper-like structures of shipping containers or greenhouses. The essence of this type of farming is that farmers can farm more food on less land with vertically stacked layers. These farms can be virtually anywhere, as the indoor facility can function all year round thanks to the AI regulating water, temperature, and lights, which are LEDs that mimic the sun’s energy. This functioning eliminates the weather and pest constraints due to these optimizations based on the crop housed inside. The expansion of this technology can combat the present lack of agricultural land.

Some AI can also increase soil nutrition, a significant aspect of the cropping process impacted by deforestation, degrading the overall quality of the soil. The German startup, known as PEAT, uses Plantix, an AI-based app that pinpoints nutrient deficiencies, pests, and diseases, helping farmers determine what fertilizers will be the most effective for the soil. This app uses image recognition-based technology, collecting images from satellites or cameras and comparing them to stored data using AI algorithms. SkySquirrel Technologies, a Canada-based startup, also uses image-based technology through drones which capture aerial images and provide data to be analyzed by experts. This data can provide detailed information to farmers about how to best care for their crops through fertilizer use and soil restoration.

The Future of Agriculture and AI

Today, there are about 200 artificial intelligence agricultural startups within the US and many more across the globe, as covered in this article. This number will likely continue to grow as AI technology can help ease the common issues farmers face globally and help them automate their farming operations, garnering a high yield. This technology can also decrease the environmental impact of farming and consequently help combat global warming by reducing freshwater usage and deforestation rate. The future of AI itself is very bright, and the future of agriculture can become even brighter with the help of new technologies.