In 1850, it took roughly 80 labor hours and 2 ½ acres to produce 100 bushels of corn, hand planting and walking a plow and harrow. Last year, U.S. farms averaged 172 bushels of corn per acre and produced it in under three hours using modern technology and equipment.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation can drive higher yields, more efficiency and increased profits for farmers.
If you use an Alexa device, apply facial recognition security on your phone or use travel apps to monitor traffic, you’ve witnessed AI’s versatility in action.
Experts define artificial intelligence as “a system’s ability to correctly interpret external data, to learn from such data, and to use those learnings to achieve specific goals and tasks through flexible adaptation.” As you can imagine, there are plenty of applications for AI on the farm.
While most modern farm equipment is equipped with auto-steer technology, farms will move toward completely autonomous equipment. Thanks to artificial intelligence, it’s possible to create fine-scale maps with real-time field conditions that allow autonomous vehicles to navigate fields safely. Several equipment manufacturers, including John Deere, Horsch, Monarch and Lely, are investing in autonomous solutions that can help reduce labor costs and increase productivity for farmers.
Smart irrigation systems
For dryland farmers, irrigation is often necessary for producing a profitable crop. Unfortunately, water is becoming harder to come by for some farmers, especially those in the Western U.S. Artificial intelligence can help optimize irrigation systems on the farm to conserve valuable resources, cut water costs and increase crop yields.
Using AI, next-generation irrigation systems can process and analyze data from satellite, plane, or drone imagery using deep-learning algorithms. The output of those algorithms, combined with soil-moisture sensors, can help farmers get an accurate read on real-time water needs across a field to adjust irrigation schedules accordingly. AI software can also help identify irrigation leaks or problems, which is typically labor-intensive. Farm ERP® offers AI-based solutions to optimize irrigation scheduling and water management practices.
Think of AI as the brain of a system – it is mainly integrated into more complex technologies to solve a problem. In the examples above, cameras and sensors (data input) use AI to analyze information and rely on equipment or robotics (data output) to execute a task. If AI is the brain, robots are the bodies. They are the tools that do the work.
With labor shortages hitting the ag industry hard, robots are a welcomed solution for labor-intensive tasks, such as harvesting specialty crops or weeding organic fields. Robotics uses software, mechanical and electrical engineering to automate tasks with improved accuracy. While robots may not be economically feasible for many farms today, with improved design and more utility, they will likely become more widespread on the farm. Here are a few examples of how farmers could use robotics to increase productivity.
Robotic field monitoring
Imagine employing a 24/7 field scout to monitor your fields for weeds, insects, diseases and nutritional deficiencies. Sounds costly, right? With robots, it could become a more economical possibility.
Consider Solinftec’s Solix Ag robot, which scans and follows crop growth stages in a field. The technology can monitor up to two million plants daily to identify any changes or abnormalities. Ag retailer Growmark piloted the Solix Ag robot in fields last summer as part of a partnership with Solinftec.
Robotic pesticide applications
Robots offer great potential for the crop protection industry because of their superior accuracy and safety benefits. In the future, you may be able to launch a robot to take care of your pest problems, eliminating the need to handle hazardous chemicals.
In the case of weed control, robots use artificial intelligence to identify weeds from non-weeds in a field. Next, they spray, dig or zap weeds with lasers to remove them. This technology is especially promising for organic specialty crop farmers, who may use hand-weeding to eliminate weeds. The University of California reports robots can potentially cut weeding costs by more than half for organic farmers; that’s between $100-$300 per acre in cost savings for lettuce and broccoli farmers. Carbon Robotics and Verdant Robotics are just two companies bringing robotic weed solutions to farmers.
The technologies we’ve explored are still emerging and may not be practical for your operation today. However, automation technology may be more accessible and offers opportunities to simplify workflows and increase efficiency.
Automation technology involves an instrument that can be physically or remotely controlled to reduce the time required to perform a task. Let’s dive into what automation could look like on the farm.
Farm management apps
There’s no shortage of apps for farmers these days. From weather forecasting to fleet coordination, you rely on your mobile devices just as much as your field equipment. Farm management apps help streamline workflows, simplify decision-making and save time. Now you can seek agronomic advice, order more fertilizer or manage your labor force with a few finger taps.
Shop around for savings
The internet has made farm input shopping a more transparent and customized experience. Farmers used to have limited options for purchasing their inputs, but today, technology like the GROWERS App expands procurement opportunities. The GROWERS App is a free platform connecting farmers and retailers nationwide. Using the platform, you can request and compare input quotes from ag retailers, cooperatives and input providers, typically outside your current network or geography. The GROWERS App also allows you to complete purchases on the platform and gives you a place to store, manage and organize input pricing and product information.
Over the past two centuries, we’ve seen incredible technological advancements in agriculture. With new ag-tech startups launching each year, technology will continue to evolve and change crop production. It’s critical to lean into your trusted advisor as you evaluate new technologies, as not every solution will be a good fit for your farm. Identify your most significant pain points and seek the technologies that are best matched to manage them.
Learn more about how GROWERS farm management technology can help you meet your business goals.