John Deere has been to CES before. The company known for its dark green tractors with the yellow deer on them has rubbed shoulders with the smart TVs, smart light bulbs, smart cars, smart switches and smart toothbrushes for years. But 2019 was a bit different. "We do consider ourselves a technology company. We wanted to engage the tech company and tell the story of agriculture," said Julian Sanchez, John Deere's director of technology innovation.
Xinghua, China (Reuters) - A brand new combine harvester buzzes up and down a field in eastern China without a driver on board, chopping golden rice stalks and offering a glimpse of what authorities say is the automated future of the nation's mammoth agricultural sector. The bright green prototype was operating last autumn during a trial of driverless farm equipment as the government pushes firms to develop within 7 years fully-automated machinery capable of planting, fertilizing and harvesting each of China's staple crops - rice, wheat and corn. That shift to automation is key to the farming sector in the world's No.2 economy as it grapples with an ageing rural workforce and a dearth of young people willing to endure the hardships many associate with toiling on the land. Other countries like Australia and the United States are taking similar steps in the face of such demographic pressures, but the sheer scale of China's farming industry means the stakes are particularly high in its drive to automate agriculture. "Automated farming is the way ahead and demand for it here is huge," said Cheng Yue, general manager of tractor maker Changzhou Dongfeng CVT Co Ltd, which provided an autonomous vehicle that was also used at the trial in the rice field in Xinghua, a county in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
This year's CES was huge for John Deere. Located on the lower level of the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall within the artificial intelligence (AI) section, attendees had opportunities to speak with Deere's team and see up close and personal intricate technologies today's farmers are using to supply and feed us – from sensors to AI, GIS, GPS, and 5G connectivity. CES attendees previewed what John Deere calls their "interconnected factory on wheels" on this year's show floor. Attendees also saw the'big green tractor' driving around one of the CES lots with advanced automated technology. John Stone (right) is senior vice president at Deere and leads the company's Intelligent Solutions Group.
You've probably heard by now that bees are dying in record numbers. They're being poisoned by pesticides while urbanization encroaches on bees' natural habitats, leaving them with fewer places to live and fewer wildflowers to feed on, says Harvard biologist James Crall, who studies bumblebees. The die-off comes as the world's human population is expected to grow from 7 billion in 2010 to 9.8 billion in 2050; as incomes rise, food producers will need to supply 56 percent more calories to meet growing demand, according to a December report by the World Resource Institute. That's going to be hard to do without the wild bees farmers have traditionally relied on to pollinate their crops. "An enormous amount of our food crops depend on animal pollinators," Crall says, highlighting fruits, nuts, and berries.
The world's human population currently stands at around 7.6 billion and is projected to reach 11.2 billion by 2100. We will therefore need a food production and distribution system that can accommodate another 3.6 billion people--ideally while consuming as little additional land and leaving as small an environmental footprint as possible, in order to maintain vital ecosystem services and conserve Earth's remaining wildlife. That's clearly a challenge given that around half of the world's habitable land is under agriculture of some kind--with a high proportion of this used for livestock farming (Figure A). Figure A (click to see a larger version). Percentages are based on 2014 figures. In a widely reported recent study, Poore and Nemecek (2018) note that a shift away from meat and dairy consumption would go a long way towards relieving pressure on agricultural land and reducing environmental impact: "Meat, aquaculture, eggs, and dairy use 83% of the world's farmland and contribute 56 to 58% of food's different emissions, despite providing only 37% of our protein and 18% of our calories." Moving to a diet that excludes animal products, say the study's authors, could reclaim 3.1 billion hectares of global farmland (a 76% reduction), while reducing food's greenhouse gas emissions by 6.6 billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction), among other environmental benefits. Of course, it will take time to effect a major shift in dietary preferences--primarily in developed countries--and global land use patterns, although emerging technologies like lab-grown meat may have an increasingly important role to play here.
Given the significant advances made by Artificial Intelligence, it's time India makes good use of this technology to encourage higher farm yields and weed out the many problems that bedevil this sector Artificial intelligence (AI) is much closer to our lives than ever before. Be it Apple's Siri or Google's Alexa, every intelligent assistant relies on speech recognition software whose backbone is AI. But for its untapped potential, human beings are turning to AI not only to play their favourite song from the playlist, but also to safeguard the environment, win over the climate change challenge and increase agricultural productivity. AI-driven technology holds immense potential. The best-laid plans, emanating from the elite minds in the scientific world, have neither been able to stave off worsening environmental conditions, nor could they ensure better state of affairs for our agricultural sector.
A new report published by the Refresh Working Group, which is funded by Google and led by the Swell Creative Group, San Francisco, aims to better understand the role artificial intelligence may play in food production, distribution, processing and consumption. Titled "Food tech: Soil to supper," the report is a first step in contextualizing how such a rapidly evolving technology may add value to the supply chain. "This report initiates a much-needed conversation about the benefits technology can bring to food production, distribution and consumption," said Ali Lange, senior public policy analyst at Google. "It is exciting to see so many every day, real-world applications of A.I. and to work together with people from across so many different sectors." The report addresses food production A.I. technologies such as autonomous tractors, drones and remote sensors that collect and analyze data in order to help farmers increase crop yields.
For many years, precision agriculture has largely been compartmentalized with the promise of true integration being just out of reach. Now, through the use of super-computer Watson and artificial intelligence (AI), IBM says it will draw all the disparate bits together into a whole that will usher in a more efficient, easier manner of growing crops and doing business through the agricultural chain. To explain the company's vision and what it expects in the near future, Mark Gildersleeve, vice president, Head of Business Solutions Watson Media and Weather, spoke with Delta Farm Press in late November. "As a personal story, I did a startup in precision agriculture in the late 1990s that ended up getting sold. Coming back to agriculture now, I was surprised at how little progress had been made over the last 25 years. "The problems that farmers have are still here.
When Geoffrey von Maltzahn was first pitching farmers to try out his startup's special seeds, he sometimes told them, half-acknowledging his own hyperbole, that "if we're right, you shouldn't just see results in the field, you should be able to see them from outer space." As the co-founder of a company called Indigo Ag, von Maltzahn was hawking a probiotic that he hoped would increase their crop yields dramatically. "I never thought we'd ever actually test that idea," he says. In the three years since Indigo began selling naturally occurring organisms such as bacteria and fungi, spray-coated onto seeds, the company has grown to become perhaps the most valuable agtech company in the world. Pitchbook, for example, estimates Indigo's value at $3.5 billion.