Agriculture in the United States is shifting, and could move even more in the coming years towards a new type of farming — with robotic, fully autonomous machines.
Agricultural AI can be used in various ways and for different tasks. According to Intellias, artificial intelligence can carry out everyday farming jobs, as well as difficult ones. It can also collect and sort through information digitally, find solutions and then carry them out when working with other tools. This type of technology is also able to give farmers information on their product, showing zones that are in need of water, fertilizer, or pesticide application.
Agricultural expert Dmytro Lenniy is a senior delivery manager and AgriTech practice leader who helps agricultural technology businesses. He told The Daily Wire over email that “AI’s advancement of agriculture revolves around three overarching areas: forecasting, disease detection, and automation.”
The ability to predict certain conditions can also help farmers use the best means of growing and be as effective as possible.
Bowery Farming notes the prevalence of AI in everyday life, and points out that it is one of the major assets that helps them solve issues.
AI in farming can also help supplement work when there are not as many people entering the farming business, or looking to provide manual labor to farms.
The United States has struggled to overcome a farmworker shortage that has happened in part due to immigration laws and less people wanting to go into the agricultural sector, according to AgAmerica Lending.
Almost half of farmworkers are illegal immigrants, and just 4% of immigrants who work on farms have become U.S. citizens. The shortage has led to farmers backing legislation that would stymie immigration reform.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act has been passed in the House of Representatives and is pending in the U.S. Senate. It includes provisions concerning alien farmworkers that would update the ways people can temporarily work in the U.S. on farms. Some worker organizations are against the bill, though, citing issues regarding inclusion of all immigrants and power inequality between farm operators and migrant workers.
A Texas A&M University study from this year was commissioned by the American Business Coalition, which pushes for immigration changes. It discovered that more migrant and H-2A employees was connected to less inflation, associated with higher wages and lower unemployment.
Although AI in agriculture could fix many issues, there are also various risks to such technological development. The image of a robot working on a farm and becoming sentient is a Hollywood-esque idea that may come to mind. The concept might seem to be fictional, but it doesn’t mean there are no privacy, security, and legal concerns that are associated with such technology.
Data processing could be a risk, as well. “The biggest risk when using AI is the possibility of incorrect recommendations or forecasting,” Lenniy told The Daily Wire. The systems must be specially programmed to be in tune with the region in which they are operating. Another major concern of using AI is maintaining the safety of a client’s private data, Lenniy noted.
The risk of cyberattacks on the food chain could increase, especially if farmers are working with a few “machine-learning programs,” per a recent report in Nature.
“Under these conditions, farmers will bring substantial croplands, pastures and hayfields under the influence of a few common [machine-learning] platforms, consequently creating centralized points of failure, where deliberate attacks could cause disproportionate harm,” the report noted. The journal pointed out that AI should be responsibly implemented, and history has shown that “a focus on increased productivity carries potential risks, including intensifying inequality and ecological degradation.”
While it can help farmers determine how best to plant and harvest, this type of development could also raise concerns if government attempts to get involved.
Already, New Zealand is attempting to tax farmers based on their livestock emissions, such as the burps and urine that come from animals. Farmers have pushed back extensively on the proposed tax, saying it will be disastrous for farmers and essentially lead to farms shutting down in an economy that is heavily driven by agriculture.
John Deere is one company that has jumped into the AI agriculture game, hoping to be entirely autonomous by 2030.
The company showed off its 8R farming tractor at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, which propels John Deere towards its goal by acting fully autonomous. After almost twenty years of funding and strategizing technology, the tractor is the final result, according to CNBC.
The Autonomous 8R Tractor was portrayed in a video by John Deere, in which a farmer explained how he can check the self-driving tractor on an app on his phone. The video showed a tractor driving itself in a field.
Doug Nimz, a fourth generation farmer from Minnesota, pointed out that labor is difficult to acquire on farms, and many hours of labor are needed for brief periods of time.
“Autonomy will help because we will be able to put a tractor out in the field and let it run for 24 hours a day because it’s not manned,” Nimz said. “But it also helps us with the weather because we can run so hard when soil conditions are fit.”
Jorge Heraud, vice president of automation and autonomy for Deere in Moline, Illinois, told CNBC, “This comes from our realization that technology is going to drive value creation and increase productivity, profitability and sustainability for farmers.”
The move towards AI has its ecological benefits, as well. Microsoft is working on developing technology that would add to sustainability by allowing farmers to track their farm’s estimated emissions, assist them “with climate adaptation by predicting weather variations” and “determine the right management practices that can be profitable and help improve soil health.”
The technology is called Project FarmVibes.
“Project FarmVibes is allowing us to build the farm of the future,” Andrew Nelson, a farmer letting Microsoft Research use his land for the project, said. “We’re showcasing the impact technology and AI can have in agriculture. For me, Project FarmVibes is saving a lot in time, it’s saving a lot in costs and it’s helping us control any issues we have on the farm.”
Lenniy said the agricultural industry is heading in the direction of digitization, and AI is a main part of that shift. Farming operations that aren’t using AI will inevitably be behind those that do.
“That’s because the advanced knowledge will enable farmers to streamline their processes, increase efficiency and shorten supply chains. Simultaneously it will benefit food distribution, providing the public with a more steady supply of produce and increasing food security,” Lenniy said.
Lenniy pointed out that there is a shortage of experts who are familiar with all of the agricultural trends. It’s difficult for people to keep up with all of the shifting trends, so AI can help replace the “constant studying” and provide solutions.
Access to water is also a major issue and is something that the use of AI could help improve. AI can provide data about weather forecasts, so that farmers can use less water than they otherwise would need to without that information, Lenniy added. The predictions can also let farmers use less pesticides on crops.
The agricultural industry is changing and the use of artificial intelligence is ultimately something that could provide more solutions to the issues the industry is facing, but the risks and challenges of such technology should not be ignored.