Agritech Resurgence: How AI Can Transform AgricultureAmid Climate Crisis
Image: AI machines are harvesting crops in an indoor greenhouse facility (via: Food Navigator)
In recent years, the United States has faced a growing agricultural crisis, compounded by the escalating challenges of climate change. As the world's population continues to surge, and with the ever-increasing impacts of climate change on food production, it is crucial to explore innovative solutions. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) in agriculture provides a ray of hope, offering the potential to transform the industry and address the pressing challenges of food security and climate change.
The United States is not immune to the worldwide agricultural challenges. With a population of 331 million and counting, the demand for food is ever-increasing. The pressure on farmers to produce more food sustainably is intensifying, especially as climate change disrupts traditional farming practices. Extreme weather events, shifting growing seasons, and unpredictable rainfall patterns are taking a toll on crop yields and food production. According to the United Nations, agriculture contributes to approximately 24% global greenhouse gas emissions a year. Furthermore, The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 17% of total global food production is wasted, exacerbating the environmental impact. To mitigate these issues, we need a revolution in agriculture, and AI offers a lifeline.
Today, agriculture has evolved into a high-tech industry where farmers must harness AI to thrive. Pests decimate up to 40% of global crops annually, forcing farmers to produce more food with fewer resources. Urbanization, immigration challenges, and a shift away from farming among younger generations have also led to a worldwide farm labor shortage, urging the industry to find innovative solutions. By deploying technologies such as autonomous tractors, drones, and sensor-equipped machinery, farmers can precisely manage their resources; intuitively reducing waste and mitigating the usage of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.
The rise of autonomous farming is a testament to the growing role of AI in agriculture. In the United States alone, approximately 200 AI-based agricultural startups have emerged. These pioneers are deploying AI in diverse ways, from self-driving tractors and combine harvesters to robot swarms for crop inspection and autonomous sprayers. Indoor farming enterprises like Plenty and AppHarvest are harnessing AI and computer vision to gather data on crops and optimize growing conditions, while robots handle the harvesting. Blue River Technology is employing machine vision and AI to differentiate crops from weeds, enabling precise herbicide application and reducing the need for human labor.
However, AI's influence extends beyond planting and harvesting; it holds the potential to mitigate the environmental and climate challenges that agriculture currently exacerbates. According to the United Nations, an astonishing 17% of total global food production is wasted, accounting for 38% of the total energy usage in the global food system. This colossal waste results in the squandering of essential resources, including water, land, energy, labor, and capital, ultimately leading to greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate climate change.
To effectively harness the power of AI in agriculture and address these multifaceted challenges, several strategies must be embraced. Firstly, multiple data types, such as video, IoT sensors, and computer vision technology, should be incorporated. These technologies capture various inputs like images and light, enabling a comprehensive understanding of crop behavior and environmental factors. Secondly, tracking all available data points is essential. Each plant can generate millions of data points, providing insights that can enhance efficiency, improve yield, reduce waste, and conserve vital resources like water and arable land.
AI's capacity for around-the-clock monitoring and continuous learning is also a pivotal asset. Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), for instance, can deliver real-time image data, supporting constant adjustments to crop management in response to changing conditions, from unexpected rainstorms to droughts. By employing AI-driven databases and computer vision, combine harvesters can differentiate grain quality and adjust settings, optimizing performance.
Implementing this new adoption is not merely an option anymore; it is a necessity. By enhancing agricultural productivity, reducing waste, and mitigating environmental harm, offers a promising path to tackle the immense challenge of feeding our growing population while curbing the detrimental impacts of climate change on agriculture. In this age of AI, technology is indeed our ally in sustaining the planet and addressing the complex issues of food production in the face of climate change.