AI in Agriculture: How It’s Revolutionizing the Industry
Apr 4, 2023
Artificial intelligence. AI. Precision Agriculture. While not new terms, this technology has gained quite a bit of momentum and attention over the last few years. But is AI really as transformative as the buzz makes it out to be?
Put simply, the answer is yes.
AI is revolutionizing industries and bringing undeniable advantages to those who, well, take advantage of it. From automotive to retail to healthcare and even agriculture, it’s playing a powerful role in expanding the possibilities for businesses.
In order to understand just how powerful that role is in an industry like agriculture though, we first need to break down what AI is. What role does it play? What are the applications? What are the benefits and even limitations? From there, we can better understand how AI impacts growers today and into the future.
To help shed some much-needed light, we’ve enlisted the help of our very own Kurtis Charling, Vice President of Digital Product Management at Lindsay Corporation. As someone who grew up on a farm and still has family farming, Charling is excited about the opportunity AI brings for growers and for Lindsay.
The role of precision technology in agriculture
“Overall, technology is allowing growers today to do more with less. They can be more productive than they ever have been. If you look at the historical outputs and production on a farm, they're at all-time highs.” Charling says.
This idea of “doing more with less” is an important one for growers. Between labor challenges and sustainability efforts, operations are needing to find new or creative ways to enhance efficiency, reduce costs and still increase yield output. That is where technology can provide much-needed support.
Charling continues by saying, “from an artificial intelligence standpoint, AI can really expand on technology by automating solutions and decisions—further reducing time and then optimizing production while taking into account various factors.”
Ultimately, it’s about providing the data, insights and visibility for decision support and peace of mind.
Popular applications of AI in agriculture
Now that we better understand the larger role AI plays for ag operations, let’s dive a bit deeper into the specific applications often highlighted when discussing the value of implementing technology.
The most popular application today, according to Charling, is predictive analytics. Like its name suggests, predictive analytics uses current and historical data, algorithms and machine learning to predict possible outcomes, or the likelihood of those outcomes. This is important because it can help vastly improve decision making and even alleviate the arduous tasks of constantly calculating variances and outcomes.
“From Lindsay's standpoint, an example is understanding when to irrigate, where and how much water to apply,” Charline explains. “If a grower wanted to do that on a daily basis—to get an updated irrigation recommendation—that could take hours a day just to just to take into account all of the changing factors. Whereas AI can automate that decision support and take away that strenuous task for the grower.”
Crop & soil health monitoring
Another popular application of AI in agriculture is crop and/or soil health monitoring. These two applications allow you to understand what’s going on with your land and yield—without having to walk row by row or make judgements based purely on observations. While that approach may still work, it’s not as accurate or as efficient as a technology aid.
When it comes to crop health, you can view satellite imagery data of your operation and get analytics relating to your crops. This allows you to do things like track crop health, make more accurate yield predictions and even identify any problems like disease or pests.
For soil health, technology can monitor and evaluate nutrition, moisture and pH levels to determine irrigation and fertigation needs. With the help of AI and predictive analytics, the analysis of your soil can be compared against your available soil data (current and historical) to provide recommendations and decision support.
Data continues to be a key part of why AI and technology is so valuable to growers. When it comes to predictive analytics and capturing information about your land and operation, weather is also a part of that story. With AI, you can receive field-specific weather forecasts or trends that aid in effective and efficient irrigation decision-making—all determined based on advanced data, science and modeling technologies.
All of the above applications apply to irrigation management. Artificial intelligence and technology is integral to more sustainable and efficient water usage and management. As growers look to reduce costs and conserve natural resources, AI provides the learnings, analytics and recommendations to improve irrigation schedules and precision performance.
Like irrigation management, AI technology and sensors can provide an upper hand when it comes to fertigation or chemigation. From detecting weeds or pests to spraying chemicals with precision, growers are able to benefit from cost savings and improved crop quality.
Benefits of implementing AI in your operations
We’ve already started to point out some of the advantages of AI, but here are the top benefits that we often hear from or talk about with growers.
Smarter data-driven decisions about seed selection, planting, irrigation and crop maintenance
The first benefit is decision support. Whether evaluating the data and predictive analytics on your own or leveraging the recommendations from AI applications, growers are able to benefit from a better understanding of their operation—the trends, realities and even forecasts.
So, when it comes to planting, growing or harvesting, growers can have more confidence in the decisions they are making. And they can have the peace of mind of monitoring and continuing to optimize—whether manually or automated—their schedules for maximum yield and efficiency.
Improved crop yield
As today’s populations continue to grow, so does the demand for food and resources—as does the pressure on growers to meet this demand. That’s why popular AI applications like those mentioned earlier are key to supporting growers and growing populations by improving crop health and yield.
With AI, you can learn the ideal windows for planting based on weather predictions and soil health. You can implement precision irrigation schedules that change based on environmental and crop data to ensure plants are getting just the right amount of water at the right time. And that’s only the beginning.
A big part of this improvement is becoming more efficient with resources. It can save time and re-direct labor needs, so that an operation can do more within a day or a season. There are also irrigation management and intelligent spraying applications that allow you to reduce unneeded waste—from a resources and a cost standpoint.
Greater sustainability with efficient water and fertilizer usage
Sustainability isn’t just beneficial for the environment. While that is an important piece of why many operations are looking to implement or enhance their sustainability efforts, these efforts can also positively impact your bottom line. Think of the dollars saved by ensuring just the right amount of fertilizer is used. The same with your irrigation.
“Sustainability is going to become more and more prevalent as we go forward—and AI can absolutely help there,” Charling adds.
Finally, automation and AI go hand-in-hand. AI can provide the information automated solutions need to perform at their best—and pivot when necessary. For growers, automation is hugely beneficial in reducing the strain put on labor and time management in turn saving resources and costs.
“There's still a lot of question marks around automation—both from a farmer's standpoint and from an industry standpoint—but that is one benefit you're seeing more of today,” Charling adds.
Question: How is Lindsay embracing AI technology?
“The biggest unknown in irrigation management today is just understanding when to irrigate and how much water to apply and how often,” says Charling. FieldNET™, Lindsay’s fully integrated remote irrigation management and scheduling technology, is helping solve for this unknown.
While alone it’s a powerful tool for growers, you can also upgrade to FieldNET Advisor™ to improve overall irrigation decision-making. FieldNET Advisor uses baseline models and field-specific data to equip growers with the knowledge they need to maintain or even increase yield while also reducing water energy.
Charling adds that, “probably the most exciting offering that we have on the horizon is the smart pivot. And more specifically around the machine health analytics that it’s going to be able to provide to farmers and growers.”
Lindsay’s smart pivot combines FieldNET™ remote irrigation management capabilities and Zimmatic™ machine health features to provide greater control, superior performance and improved sustainability.
To illustrate the benefits of machine health features, Charling says to think about determining when a gearbox or center drive motor is going to fail. Can you prevent the machine from shutting down? Or, change that gearbox or motor out before it shuts the system down? If not, there are yield and time ramifications.
If the system does ultimately shut down, the machine health features provided by smart pivot can predict and inform which tower is out of alignment. So, you can quickly find that tower and fix the issue to get that system back up and running before any larger issues happen.
“That’s just one example of some of the really exciting things that we're doing with smart pivot,” Charling adds.
Lindsay also recently announced a partnership with Ceres Imaging, a provider of high-resolution imagery analytics with support for precision agriculture, to enhance the FieldNET platform and provide even more valuable insights into crop health and performance. The addition of Ceres’ imagery and access to its analytics will further a grower’s ability to monitor, control and analyze their operations with tailored solutions and recommendations to maximize yield, operational efficiency and sustainability.
Where will AI take agriculture next?
The future is wide open for AI in agriculture. “My advice would be to continue to embrace AI and predictive analytics. It’s not going away, and it’s only going to continue to grow and improve,” says Charling.
While there is still work to do around educating on how and why data is needed to improve this technology, the ultimate goal across the industry is to make operations more efficient and sustainable.
“AI can provide growers around the world with the opportunity to improve their operation,” he adds. “But more importantly, it’s going to improve the quality of life for growers. They're going to have more time to do other things and not stress as much about some of the tasks they’ve had to do in the past to ensure their operation was running efficiently and profitably."
If you’re interested in learning more about AI technology and how Lindsay is expanding the potential of operations around the world, reach out to your local Zimmatic dealer today!