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Artificial Intelligence Belongs in Agriculture

South by Southwest (SXSW), the premier festival for film, interactive technology, and music in Austin, Texas, may seem an unlikely place to discuss agriculture, but as ag technology continues to grow, there is no better place to engage consumers in conversations about farm-to-fork innovation.

Land O’Lakes, which brought together a panel of ag-tech experts, introduced the topic, “Does Artificial Intelligence Belong in Agriculture?” to attendees during a three-day immersive experience on the American food system.

For panelist Mark Young, chief technology officer and head of product for The Climate Corporation, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing ag by providing growers more data – not limited to the scope of their own farm – for better decision-making. He explains AI as “a whole family of technologies” that is the basis for image recognition, complex process models, navigation systems, autonomous vehicles, and other applications growers are already using.

Joel Wipperfurth, director of ag technology at Winfield United, sees AI as a way to harness more advanced versions of statistics and increase computing power. For farmers, this means accurate and effective crop models that support in-season decisions no matter the complexity of data or the variability caused by weather patterns.

Growers Face Common Challenges Worldwide

While AI continues to be integrated into the daily use of technology, there are still common challenges facing growers across the globe. One is a shortage of labor. Others include rural access to network connectivity, mechanization for small-holder farmers, and the cost barrier to enter farming.

Nick DelRegno, fellow of emerging tech platforms at Verizon, commented that while AI is integral to ag, it isn’t “one size fits all” and the issue of accessibility is one Verizon is keen to address.

Stewart Collis, senior program officer of Digital Ag Solutions for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brought the focus back to the importance of developing innovative technology that connects growers to markets and increases their productivity.

So what opportunity is on the horizon for AI? Transparency. Young stated, “The reason so many of us (consumers) are disconnected from ag is because we’ve gotten really good at it.”

As consumers’ interest in where their food comes from increases, AI is poised to provide the transparency that current practices lack. It can even provide insight to the grower on the performance of products, fertility programs, tillage practices, and new business models.

Adoption of AI will only grow. According to Wipperfurth, we’ll see plenty of new jobs created because of AI, and we’ll also see that those farmers who do embrace the technology will have a leg up on those who don’t.

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