How AI Is Transforming Agriculture


Agriculture is one of the oldest and most important professions in the world. Humanity has come a long way over the millennia in how we farm and grow crops with the introduction of various technologies. As the world population continues to grow and land becomes scarcer, people have needed to get creative and become more efficient about how we farm, using less land to produce more crops and increasing the productivity and yield of those farmed acres. Worldwide, agriculture is a $5 trillion industry, and now the industry is turning to AI technologies to help yield healthier crops, control pests, monitor soil and growing conditions, organize data for farmers, help with the workload, and improve a wide range of agriculture-related tasks in the entire food supply chain.

AI Helping to Analyze Farm Data

Farms produce hundreds of thousands of data points on the ground daily. With the help of AI, farmers can now analyze a variety of things in real time such as weather conditions, temperature, water usage or soil conditions collected from their farm to better inform their decisions. For example, AI technologies help farmers optimize planning to generate more bountiful yields by determining crop choices, the best hybrid seed choices and resource utilization.

AI systems are also helping to improve harvest quality and accuracy -- what is known as precision agriculture. Precision agriculture uses AI technology to aid in detecting diseases in plants, pests and poor plant nutrition on farms.  AI sensors can detect and target weeds and then decide which herbicides to apply within the right buffer zone. This helps to prevent over application of herbicides and excessive toxins that find their way in our food.

Farmers are also using AI to create seasonal forecasting models to improve agricultural accuracy and increase productivity. These models can predict upcoming weather patterns months ahead to assist decisions of farmers. Seasonal forecasting is particularly valuable for small farms in developing countries as their data and knowledge can be limited. Keeping these small farms operational and growing bountiful yields is important as these small farms produce 70% of the world’s crops.

In addition to ground data, farmers are also taking to the sky to monitor the farm. Computer vision and deep learning algorithms process data captured from drones flying over their fields. From drones, AI enabled cameras can capture images of the entire farm and analyze the images in near-real time to identify problem areas and potential improvements. Unmanned drones can cover far more land in much less time than humans on foot allowing for large farms to be monitored more frequently.

AI Tackles the Labor Challenge

With fewer people entering the farming profession, most farms are facing the challenge of a workforce shortage. Traditionally farms have needed many workers, mostly seasonal, to harvest crops and keep farms productive. However, as we have moved away from being an agrarian society with large quantities of people living on farms to now large quantities of people living in cities fewer people are able and willing to tend to the land. One solution to help with this shortage of workers is AI agriculture bots. These bots augment the human labor workforce and are used in various forms. These bots can harvest crops at a higher volume and faster pace than human laborers, more accurately identify and eliminate weeds, and reduce costs for farms by having around the clock labor force.

Additionally, farmers are beginning to turn to chatbots for assistance. Chatbots help answer a variety of questions and provide advice and recommendations on specific farm problems. Chatbots are already being used in numerous other industries with great success. 

Using AI and cognitive technologies, farms across the world can run more efficiently, with fewer workers than before while still meeting the world’s food needs. There is no more fundamental need than the need for food, and this will never go away. Fortunately, the use of AI will allow farms of all sizes to operate and function keeping our world fed. Using agricultural AI and cognitive technologies, farms across the world can run more efficiently to produce the fundamental staples of our dietary lifestyles.

Kathleen Walch, columnist, is Co-Founder, Senior Analyst at Cognilytica. Kathleen is a serial entrepreneur, savvy marketer, AI and Machine Learning expert, and tech industry connector. She is a senior analyst and founder of Cognilytica, an AI research and advisory firm, and co-host of the popular AI Today podcast.

Prior to her work at Cognilytica, Kathleen founded tech startup-up HourlyBee, an online scheduling system for home services where she quickly became an expert in grassroots marketing, networking, and employee management. Before that, Kathleen was a key part of the direct marketing operation for Harte Hanks managing large scale direct mail campaigns for clients including Bed Bath and Beyond and BuyBuyBaby. Managing mailings with millions of records each month, she created efficiencies in the process saving thousands of dollars and days of processing time from each campaign. Kathleen then spent many years as the Content and Innovation Director for TechBreakfast, the largest monthly morning tech meetup in the nation with over 50,000 members and 3000+ attendees at the monthly events across the US including Baltimore, DC, NY, Boston, Austin, Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Raleigh and more. In addition she is a SXSW Innovation Awards Judge and AI / Hardware Meetup organizer.

As a master facilitator and connector, who is well connected in the technology industry, Kathleen
regularly meets with innovators in key markets and gets the opportunity to see the latest and newest technologies from game changing companies.

Kathleen graduated from Loyola University with a degree in Marketing. In her spare time she enjoys hanging out with her husband and two young girls and working out – you can frequently find her on jogging paths and workout studios.