The agriculture sector forms the backbone of most developing countries like India, Vietnam and China among others. Approximately 50-85% of the population of these countries is engaged in agriculture. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), approximately 60% of the world’s population is involved in agriculture. Focussing on India, agriculture, with it’s allied sectors, is the largest source of livelihood. Around 70% of the population depends on agriculture as a primary source of livelihood. These are staggering statistics and all say the same thing – agriculture is a very important aspect of the global and domestic economy.
We’ve already established the relevance of agriculture. With the effects of climate change and global warming intensifying, it is important to be able to safeguard our crops. This may seem trivial, but for someone whose livelihood is dependant on a harvest, it is a matter of life and death. Climate change is not the only problem. A population explosion and increasing food security concerns, demand for innovative and effective solutions. This is where artificial intelligence or AI, swoops in to save the day.
How Artificial Intelligence Helps
The field of AI has proven to be extremely versatile. It is of use in perhaps every industry and sector. Agriculture is no exception. But how is AI of use in agriculture? Read on! There are numerous successful and operational applications of AI. Crop and soil health monitoring is one of them. Degradation of soil quality and health is a serious concern for food security. Governments across the globe have been pushing for more sustainable agricultural practices to ensure optimum soil health. The more nutrient-rich the soil, the better the crop. Through computer vision and deep-learning algorithms, it is possible to routinely monitor the health of the soil. Drones can be used to cover farm fields, gathering the required geographical data and photographs using sensors. This information can then be transmitted real time. Remote sensing is useful as it saves up a lot of time. The drones provide portability and speed.
“There is a dire need to include industry IoT, Industry 4.0, GIS, and AI to digitize agriculture.”Prof. M Moni, Chief Advisor (IT) Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare
The Soil Health Card Scheme
The Government of India has launched the Soil Health Card Scheme is 2015 and it makes use of the technologies discussed earlier. Each farmer is provided with soil cards with crop-wise recommendations of nutrients and fertilisers. This data is obtained via geospatial monitoring and remote sensing technologies powered by artificial intelligence. It has also been proposed to monitor soil data using mobile applications.
Precision Farming and Agricultural Robotics
A related concept is precision farming. It aims to maximize yields and help farmers determine which crop is suitable depending on the geographical location and soil quality. Again, this is all thanks to artificial intelligence! Drones also have a big role to play here. Fitted with high resolutions cameras and sensors, they are able to relay important information in real time. The consequent data that they gathered is analysed through machine learning algorithms ( which is a sub-field of artificial intelligence ).
Agricultural robotics is another upcoming field. It is used in harvesting equipment. Companies like Harvest Croo and Abundant Technologies have developed artificial intelligence based robots that are able to sense and ‘see’ where harvested fruits and berries are. Mimicking human motion, these robots are able to pick out the fruit or berry with precise and quick movements. Agricultural robotics gains grounds where labour pools are reducing. It efficiently replaces manual labour offering a more reliable and dependable solution. Agricultural robotics is also used for pest and weed control. The use of artificial intelligence has led to great advances in image processing. It is this image processing which is used here. Using mobile implementations of artificial intelligence, farmers can effectively locate pests or weeds and remove them without blanket spraying an entire field. This helps save money and efficiently utilise resources.
Yield Boosting Algorithms
Yield boosting algorithms have also been made possible with the help of artificial intelligence. What does this mean? It means implementing a smarter and more frugal way of farming. Another headway in this direction is by implementing chatbots powered by artificial intelligence that can provide smart solutions to problems that farmers may face in their day-to-day lives. Learned in agricultural practices, these chatbots can effectively assist farmers and provide an around-the-clock substitute for human assistance.
The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture
Digital farming and connected services shall impact 70 million Indian farmers by 2020. This will result in an addition of $9 billion to the farmers’ incomes.
“The industry will be transformed by data science and artificial intelligence. Farmers will have the tools to get the most from every acre.”Gayle Sheppard, Vice President and General Manager, Intel® AI
When it comes to agriculture, artificial intelligence is the future and the way to go.