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09 April 2024

Agriculture Industry is Turning to Powerful AI and Simulation Tools to Meet Increasing Food Demands

By Bobby Carlton
FS Studio Agriculture work

American farmers are swiftly embracing artificial intelligence (AI), recognizing its sophistication and crucial role in modern agriculture.

In farming all across America, there aren’t enough people to do the work needed to grow crops. This lack of workers is a big problem because it affects how much food we can produce. Especially in the US, where farming is a huge deal, many farmers are getting older and can’t do as much physical work as they used to. Younger people aren’t taking over the family farms like they used to, either. Instead, they’re choosing other jobs that pay better and are easier. Even the people who come to work on farms from other countries are starting to pick different jobs.

Emily Buckman, who works with farmers, says that not having enough workers is the main worry. She grew up on a farm herself, and her dad still works hard even though he’s 70 years old and has only her brother to help him.

To fix this problem, some American farmers are turning to new technology like robots and AI. These tools can help with the work that’s needed on a farm. Buckman thinks that using technology could make the workload lighter for farmers.

“Labor is the number one concern,” said Emily Buckman, director of government affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation, an industry trade association in a BBC article. “The average age of a farmer now is 60. Buckman goes on to say that she herself grew up on a farm in Kentucky, where her 70-year-old father still works the soil, with only her brother to help him.

“We think about solutions to solving that problem, and we do think that advances in technology could help ease some of the labor load.” – Emily Buckman

While AI in farming isn’t totally new, it’s been getting more popular in recent years. A lot of farms in the US are now using AI in some way. The government is also pushing for more farms to use this technology by giving them money to develop and use it.

One interesting fact is that as of late 2021, it is estimated that 87% of agriculture businesses in the US are using AI in some capacity to assist their farming goals, and the federal government is working with the agriculture industry to provide companies/farmers with large financial incentives to speed up the development and deployment of AI tools with farmers and agriculture companies across the US.

If AI becomes a big part of farming in America, it could have a big impact around the world. With more people to feed and the climate changing, using AI could help make sure we have enough food to go around.

According to Buckman, the agriculture industry’s goal is to develop and adopt new technologies such as AI, digital twins and simulation on a mass scale that is both affordable and accessible “so that farmers can feed the world”, adding, “The world population is supposed to increase by two billion by 2050, which means we’re going to need to grow 70% more food than we do now. Innovative technology is going to help us do that.”

One group of researchers at Iowa State University is working on creating AI tools for agriculture. They’re trying to find ways to make farming more resilient to changes in the weather and to help farmers make more money while using fewer resources.

In the same BBC article, Patrick Schnable, a distinguished professor at Iowa State University, where he directs the Plant Sciences Institute says “All projections show major losses in crop yields due to climate change. A 10% or 20% reduction in corn yields would be catastrophic.

Schnable then poses the question, “Can we use AI to increase resiliency?”

Drones, Robotics, Simulation, Digital Twins with AI

Right now, some common AI tools in farming include drones and GPS devices. But there are lots of other cool gadgets, like self-driving tractors and robots that can sort crops. These tools can help farmers use less water and chemicals while still growing plenty of food.

Large agriculture companies like John Deere are also getting in on the AI action. They’re making machines that can do more and more of the work on a farm. For example, they have tractors that can drive themselves and even robots that can find and remove weeds without hurting the crops.

Image from John Deere
John Deere’s Operations Center is an online farm-management system that provides real-time data to facilitate precision agriculture strategies (Credit: Courtesy of John Deere)

Sarah Schinckel, the Director of Emerging Technologies in the Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) at John Deere, emphasizes their aim to enhance farmers’ efficiency through AI and technology. She asserts that AI tools are revolutionizing farming, with widespread adoption already underway. Schinckel envisions a future where an increasing number of farmers leverage this technology in their operations.

“Our goal with AI and technology is to help farmers do their jobs better,” said Schinckel. She continues to talk about AI tools stating that it’s already changing farming, “it’s already here, and farmers are adopting it. We see a future where more and more farmers are using this technology.”

FS Studio Agriculture Case Study

This in fact is very true. In one agriculture project undertaken by FS Studio, our client came to us with a unique challenge: they wanted to leverage game technology to streamline the research and design process for their automated robotic equipment. However, lacking the necessary expertise in-house, they turned to us to bring their ideas to life.

Their vision was ambitious: to replace costly and risky field testing with simulations. They aimed to use these simulations to fine-tune their platform for various combinations of crops at different growth stages, as well as different types and densities of plants. Specifically, they wanted to generate synthetic imagery that mimicked what their machine vision systems would perceive from different vantage points and heights on their platform.

agriculture

One of the main hurdles we faced was replicating the high densities of crops and weeds found in real-world scenarios while maintaining performance and fidelity in the simulation. Leveraging the latest DOTS (Data Oriented Technology Stack) technology from Unity, we were able to achieve satisfactory simulation performance while still providing high-resolution synthetic imagery.

Our team not only successfully delivered a system capable of generating the desired synthetic imagery, but the simulation also garnered interest from other departments within the company. It became a valuable tool for visualizing the system’s functionality to potential customers and for training employees on its operation.

Overall, our collaboration with the client resulted in a cutting-edge simulation tool that not only met their initial objectives but also found applications beyond their original scope, showcasing the power of innovative technology in agricultural research and development.

You can read more about the project here.

AI and Agriculture

Using AI in farming isn’t just good for farmers and companies—it can also help the environment. By using fewer chemicals and resources, we can protect our planet and make sure we have enough food for everyone.

Buckman highlights that precision agriculture contributes to decreasing water waste, increasing efficiency, and achieving more with fewer resources. She notes that thirty years ago, US agriculture would have required an additional 100 million acres to achieve current production levels. These improvements are primarily attributed to the integration of precision agriculture strategies alongside AI and other technologies.

Overall, experts are pretty hopeful about the future of AI in farming. They think it could help solve a lot of the problems that farmers face, like not having enough workers and dealing with climate change. And with more and more farms using this technology, we might see some big changes in how we grow our food.

Let us know how we can assist you with our work! Book a consultation call with Bobby Carlton using his Calendly Link or email him at bobby.carlton @ fsstudio.com.