From a layperson’s perspective, agriculture is often about anything but cutting-edge tech and sci-fi concepts. The surprising truth, however, is that this traditional industry is one of the most active adopters of the latest advancements in IoT, AI/ML, and drone technologies.
Read on to learn how a medley of new technology trends is helping the agritech industry boost efficiencies and productivity across the board for the ultimate purpose of yielding more produce per square acre and keeping fields healthy and productive for as long as possible.
History of using artificial intelligence in the agricultural industry
Success in agriculture has traditionally been associated with hard-earned know-how, experience, and individual intuition of people working on the land. All of that still holds true, but modern technologies can now help farmers to take their productivity to a whole new level to better meet the global demand for agricultural produce.
In the past, every part of a field used to be treated in more or less the same way, which resulted in some areas getting overfertilized and others receiving less fertilizers than actually needed. Crop yields were also averaged, which provided no real indication of what areas required extra attention to improve their productivity.
The advent of GPS and GIS (Geographic Information System) solutions brought much-needed changes to traditional farming practices. Later on, these technologies were complemented by arrays of multifunctional sensors scattered across the land, drones with high-resolution cameras, automated greenhouses and, finally, sophisticated software systems that fully revealed the potential of artificial intelligence in agriculture.
The combined effect of these technological advancements couldn’t be more clear: AI in agriculture is projected to grow from an estimated $1 billion in 2020 to as much as $4 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 25.5% between 2020 and 2026, according to a marketing report by MarketsandMarkets.
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Benefits of AI and machine learning in agriculture
Is it important to understand that AI and ML are not magic spells or silver bullets capable of doing away with any problem. However, they are extremely powerful technologies that help turn vast arrays of data collected from video and photo surveillance, groups of sensors, and other sources into meaningful and actionable insights.
Overall, the use of artificial intelligence in agriculture may lead to a number of tangible benefits:
Cost savings. The cost of every harvest is a combination of multiple factors (energy, water, gas, human labor, fertilizers, herbicides, seeds, etc.), so being able to tell whether these resources are used effectively is extremely important. Machine learning in agriculture is perfectly positioned to plow through numbers, compare them, detect unwanted and wasteful practices, suggest process optimizations, and streamline day-to-day operations without calling for major investments of capital.
Yield boost. AI/ML algorithms can be applied to dig through vast arrays of both historical and new data to suggest effective ways of increasing crop yields from particular areas through regular crop rotation, targeted fertilization, timely pest control, and other important activities. Drone image processing coupled with IoT data collection are also getting increasingly more commonplace and are helping agricultural companies identify land productivity issues faster and with increased accuracy.
Better compliance with sustainable farming best practices. Using the land and natural resources to the fullest without causing soil exhaustion or overconsumption of water from the nearest water reservoirs helps form a body of constant, recurring practices that aim to preserve the land’s capacity to remain productive for generations to come. To that end, AI and ML technologies can help farmers develop sustainable resource consumption scenarios based on historical data.
Let’s now take a look at some specific areas where companies can leverage the potential of AI and ML in agriculture for increased productivity, higher yields, and slower soil degradation.
Smart greenhouses and deep farm automation
Vertical farms are steadily gaining popularity in areas where traditional farming techniques are either ineffective or simply impossible — for example, in arid regions or in space-limited agricultural facilities located within city limits.
Due to the sheer complexity and intensity of the plant-growing process, these facilities require a great deal of control, automation, round-the-clock monitoring and robotic assistance. A number of companies are already offering end-to-end robotic solutions bundled with powerful, unified farm management solutions that tie all the processes together and enable such next-gen indoor farms to operate very effectively within confined spaces and in a near-autonomous mode.
Real-time monitoring of crop fields
Drones are an invaluable tool in the technology arsenal of any modern agricultural company. Relatively affordable, fast to deploy and extremely maneuverable, they can be programmed to automatically follow the same predefined routes day after day, taking photos and recording videos along the way or at particular waypoints.
With the right drone management and data analysis software in place, modern farmers can quickly obtain a much better understanding of the dynamics of plant growth, spreading of crop diseases, pest infestation, watering needs, and many other aspects of land and crop management.
What’s most important is that agricultural drones can be fitted with high-precision, multispectral sensing systems capable of singling out fields or parts of fields that need to be treated chemically or mechanically, thus lowering land maintenance costs and making for a much faster reaction time to adverse effects of any type.
In addition to observations with the help of state-of-the-art remote sensing technologies, drones can be used for delivering and sowing seeds or spraying crops with chemicals — also with great precision and at a fraction of the cost of conventional land treatment operations.
Learn how to use drones to improve visibility across your vast farmland and set it all up the right way. Intellias is instrumental with drones and knows how to interpret agricultural drone data for crop management decisions
Accurate crop yield forecasting models
Machine learning in agriculture has become an increasingly popular tool used for the development of complex algorithmic models capable of predicting crop yields based on a variety of parameters: from real-time data delivered via weather stations and soil analysis sensors to drone imagery, digital maps, and computer vision analysis of the soil.
Today, fairly accurate yield forecasts can be made even before the seeds fall into the soil — given, of course, that they are fueled by comprehensive big data coming from trustworthy sources.
Field mapping and soil preparation
A productive and healthy field is one that has not been overexploited for years, has received enough water and fertilizers, and has been mechanically prepared for planting. All of these parameters can be effectively tracked remotely using IoT sensors and drone images.
This complex task can be achieved with the help of custom solutions tailored to the individual characteristics of an agricultural business (region, landscape, harvesting periodicity, dominant crop types, and more) or commercial off-the-shelf solutions like eAgronom, to take one example. Such specialized software can result in considerable cost savings and bump up the сombined yield by a fair margin.
Soil analysis and management solutions go hand in hand with advanced field mapping services and tools like OneSoil that combine satellite imagery with custom GIS data to create a bird-eye view of vast farm territories.
These and similar solutions for agricultural precision mapping are capable of constantly monitoring nutrient levels in the soil and comparing them with those registered in the years that demonstrated the highest yields. To lessen the chemical impact on the soil, AI algorithms can provide recommendations on the minimally sufficient dosage of fertilizers and pesticides that should address any detected issues without inflicting excessive damage.
Intelligent supply chain management
Effective farming is not just about plowing, sowing, and harvesting. It’s also about being able to quickly supply lots and lots of materials and chemical compounds to the right fields, in just the right amount, and without having to overpay or stockpile excess materials for months.
On the commercial side, it’s also about the ability to effectively store and quickly sell ripe produce, which is especially important for crops with a short life span, such as cucumbers or tomatoes.
Both goals can be achieved with complex, deeply integrated precision farming systems, either fully custom or customized to meet specific requirements.
Cattle farmers can also take full advantage of cutting-edge machine learning in agriculture. AI-driven computer vision systems aided by IoT technology can help count animals within corrals of any size, locate runaway cows or sheep, identify the right moment for relocating livestock from depleted pastures, and detect anomalies in animal behavior that may be a sign of diseases.
AI and ML in agriculture are steadily gaining momentum and are destined to become a major element of all modern and future agricultural practices. This data- and algorithm-driven approach effectively helps optimize and automate virtually all workflows inherent in agriculture, and is fully capable of preparing the modern farmer for the ever-growing complexity of this ancient craft.
An appropriate question would be “can AI eventually take humans out of the equation?” Of course not, as all the hard work is eventually done by hard-working people working in the field. However, AI can substantially facilitate a great number of their daily tasks and become an all-seeing, all-sensing advisor that will offer smart recommendations for making informed decisions.
In the future, ML and AI will become the core of intelligent farms and will tie together drone fleets in the sky and on the ground, fields of soil sensors, smart greenhouses and connected farming business management systems placing orders and posting offers in a fully automated fashion.
If you own or operate an agricultural business, now is the right time to embrace the technology of tomorrow and start reaping its countless fruits before your competitors take the lead.
Want to always stay in the loop regarding the latest developments in smart agriculture? Intellias is a great source of AI and ML news from many industries, including agriculture. Contact us to stay abreast of the hottest trends, products and tools that you’ll want to make a part of your own business.