As we marked World Earth Day last week, now’s a good time to look at how AI can be used to help make the planet greener. AI has been making great strides in agriculture and weather forecasting, helping farmers automate key processes and protect crop yields. Tech giants like IBM and Microsoft have committed to using technology to power innovation in agriculture and work towards solving global environmental challenges.
For example, Microsoft’s AI for Earth initiative provides AI and cloud tools to projects that use AI to address global challenges in climate, agriculture, water and biodiversity towards building a sustainable future. In its FarmBeats program, farmers can use robotics, sensors, and drones to assess growing conditions. The data is processed and interpreted using cloud services and AI and ML tools to generate insights that can help farmers manage their crops more efficiently.
Robotics is highly useful in reducing the economic impact of labor shortages that are common in agriculture. Robotics companies are developing autonomous robots that can harvest crops and assist human workers in multiple agricultural tasks like packing produce, inventory, and distribution.
Farmers can practice precision farming with AI and ML. Farmers can now make decisions based on image-based insights that are provided by drone technology. Drones monitor crops while scanning fields, providing farmers with a real-time view of their fields. High-quality images help farmers determine if the crop is ready for harvest as well as its overall health and readiness. As it provides high-quality imaging, it also collects agricultural data.
AI and machine learning further interpret the data for farmers and generate insights that can help them improve processes to boost crop yields. With machine learning, these processes improve consecutively.
Researchers in this area suggest that it can also help farmers forecast the year ahead. This can be achieved by using inputs like historic production data, long-term weather forecasts, seed information (data that is usually available with genetically modified seeds) and taking into consideration commodity pricing trends and predictions which help provide guidelines on when and how much to sow.
Additionally, the presence of low-cost ground-based sensors provide data on soil and crop health. This idea behind this is to help farmers decide on optimal sowing and harvesting dates and allocate water and fertilizer to the right locations.
Connecting the community
In order to be able to use AI, the farmer must have access to connectivity first. Access to power, satellite phones, and high-speed internet poses a big challenge for farms across the world. Microsoft, through its Airband Initiative, is hoping to solve that with affordable broadband to rural communities.
For example, in India, the company was successful in connecting a community of farmers with a mobile app and a dashboard. The app works on simple SMS-enabled phones and presents sowing recommendations that are based on AI. Farmers who used the app and followed the recommendations reported a 30 percent rise in yield.
Another concern in Indian agriculture is cost. Technology needs to be cost-effective if it is to be used in rural areas. Microsoft’s FarmBeats program in India uses an end-to-end IoT platform with low-cost sensors, drones, and ML algorithms to deliver insights that aim to increase the farm’s productivity.
Use of AI in weather forecasting and its impact on agriculture
As is commonly known, a large percentage of crop losses are usually due to weather-related events like unseasonal rain or droughts and at least some of them are preventable. The use of AI in weather forecasting continues to improve its accuracy, helping not just farmers and large organizations plan their work, but also help in disaster management.
IBM has invested heavily in AI-driven weather forecasting. Their Deep Thunder system provides highly customized information for business clients by using hyper-local forecasts. Meanwhile, seed giant Monsanto has acquired an agricultural software company that uses satellite imagery, soil data analysis, and hyper-local weather data to generate irrigation insights for farmers.
AI, IoT, and ML are the tools that will help lead the next revolution in agriculture. Along with the help of robotics and accurate weather forecasting, these tools can help recommend precise farming techniques that will go a long way in increasing yield and boosting a farm’s profitability. Contact us to learn more about how these tools can help you grow your business.