CUYAMA, CA - APRIL 28: Overhead irrigation of this newly planted crop of carrots is putting ... [ ] pressure on the available groundwater supplies as viewed on April 28, 2020, in Cuyama, California. Located in the northeastern corner of Santa Barbara County, the sparsely populated and extremely arid Cuyama Valley has become an important agricultural region, producing such diverse crops as carrots, pistachios, lettuce, and wine grapes. The global precision farming market includes technology like robotics, imagery, sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and bio-engineering is expected to reach more than $16 billion by 2028, according to a March 2021 report from Grand View Research. What if you could combine AI and traditional aerial imagery to build data sets that help farmers and food processors gain insight into crop heartiness while it was still growing in the field? Saul Alarcon, an Agronomist at The Morningstar Company that sources and processes tomatoes for several tomato-based products, says that new agriculture technologies based on AI can improve farming decisions.
National Geographic recently predicted that by 2050, there would be more than two billion additional mouths to feed By 2050. However, the Earth's irrigable land remains essentially the same, so feeding this ever-growing population is getting harder and harder. Vertical farming seems to be a critical tool for feeding them – and without the massive carbon footprint that comes with shipping food from distant farms. Plenty, an ag-tech startup in San Francisco co-founded by Nate Storey, has been able to increase its productivity and production quality by using artificial intelligence and its new farming strategy. The company's farm farms take up only 2 acres yet produce 720 acres worth of fruit and vegetables.
A behemoth of a worker, recently recognized by a national publication, that can meticulously and precisely remove weeds growing between sprouting crops is being employed on farms in California and Arizona. Time magazine recently placed the FarmWise Titan FT-35 on its list of Best Inventions of 2020. It is an automated mechanical weeder that can help substitute the pass of a hand-weeding crew, which usually has 10 to 15 people. FarmWise has its operations headquarters, or home base for its team and machines, in Salinas and an office in San Francisco that houses most of its engineers. The company works with farming operations in the Salinas Valley such as Dole and Braga Fresh, plus dozens of other customers.
Editor's Note: Robotics Business Review's coverage emphasizes innovation, including start-up companies (or'young' companies). RBR "Start-Up Profiles" highlight individual start-up companies using a consistent, templated format that makes for quick, yet informed reading, that also simplifies comparative analysis. Funding Status – $20.2 million raised so far (Series A) FarmWise builds innovative systems and processes to streamline farm operations and increase food production efficiency. Technology / Product / Service(s) – For vegetable growers who face increased growing costs and new regulatory pressures, FarmWise builds innovative systems and processes to streamline farm operations and increase food production efficiency. FarmWise's first product, an automated mechanical weeder powered by AI and robotics has captured more than 100 million crop images. Today, it is offered as a service to vegetable growers in California and Arizona.
The Earth is losing forests at an alarming rate. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost to agricultural use (largely cattle ranching, soya bean and oil palm farming) since 1990. Between 2015 and 2020, some 10 million hectares were destroyed each year. The Amazon rainforest, for example, lost an area the size of Yellowstone (3,769 square miles) in 2019, and saw deforestation rates spike 30 percent to their highest point in a decade. What's more, Climate change-induced wildfires, as we've seen recently in Australia and in California, have been especially destructive.
The University of California, Davis, has been awarded $20 million as part of a multi-institutional collaboration to establish an institute focused on enabling the next-generation food system through the integration of artificial intelligence, or AI, technologies. The award is part of a larger investment announced by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, in partnership with several federal agencies -- distributing a total of $140 million to fund seven complementary AI research institutes across the nation. The AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems, or AIFS, aims to meet growing demands in our food supply by increasing efficiencies using AI and bioinformatics spanning the entire system -- from growing crops through consumption. This includes optimizing plant traits for yield, crop quality and disease resistance through advances in molecular breeding, in addition to minimizing resource consumption and waste through development of agriculture-specific AI applications, sensing platforms, and robotics. The team's plan also intends to benefit consumers through enhancements to food safety and development of new tools to provide real-time assessment of meals that can guide personalized health decisions.
PyTorch is helping to power a new generation of AI-enhanced farming machines. For farmers, weeds pose a very real threat to the health of crops at a time when global population growth is raising food demand while also making resources such as land and water increasingly scarce. Seeking solutions to helping farmers produce more food with fewer resources, California-based Blue River Technology, a subsidiary of John Deere, has turned to artificial intelligence and robotics technology. The company's See & Spray robotic farming machine combines machine learning (ML) and computer vision to identify weeds among crops in real time and to treat weeds while leaving crops unharmed -- giving farmers a more consistent, precise, and efficient means of weeding crops. As the See & Spray machine moves through a field, it collects images of crops and weeds through the use of a high-resolution camera array.
But 2019 was the year the earth burned. In Australia, the world watched in horror as bushfires destroyed 10.3 million hectares, marking the continent's most intense and destructive fire season in over 40 years. Earlier that fall, California saw more than 101,000 hectares destroyed, with damages upward of $80 billion. Alaska saw nearly a million. Record-breaking fires also hit Indonesia, Russia, Lebanon -- but nowhere saw the sheer mass of media coverage as the fires that tore through the Amazon nearly all last summer. By year's end, thousands of global media outlets had reported that Brazil's largest rainforest played host to more than 80,000 individual forest fires in 2019, resulting in an estimated 906,000 square hectares of environmental destruction. At the time, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research reported it was the fastest rate of burning since record keeping began in 2013. But amid the charred ruins of one of the largest oxygen-producing environments on the planet, a secret lies buried beneath the soil.
During a workshop hosted at the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) 2020, taking place on the web this week, panelists discussed how AI and machine learning might be -- and already has been -- applied to agricultural challenges. As several experts pointed out, countries around the world face a food supply shortfall -- an estimated 9% of the population (697 million people) are severely "food insecure," meaning they're without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Factors like labor shortages, the spread of pests and pathogens, and climate change threaten to escalate the crisis. IBM scientists spoke about their work in Africa with agricultural "digital twins," or digital models of crops used to forecast specific crop yields. And a team from the University of California, Davis detailed an effort to use satellite images to predict foraging conditions for livestock in Kenya.
Cattle farmers have been incorporating new technologies into their management of cows for years now, using everything from facial recognition to milking robots. But the internet went wild in late November when a story about Russian farmers using virtual reality goggles on cows went viral. While that story was treated with a fair amount of skepticism from farmers and experts, it did bring a spotlight to the many ways cattle farmers are using technology to reduce the carbon footprint of cows and make farm management more sustainable. "Cows are one of the most important areas that we need to improve tech applications to, principally because on a global agricultural systems basis, cows are our single best source of recycling waste nutrients," said David Hunt, co-founder of Cainthus, an agritech company, based in Dublin, California and Ottawa, focusing on digitizing agricultural practices with computer vision and AI. "The criticism of cows that is valid is the methane emissions that go with cows and one of the most important areas in agricultural tech is reducing those methane emissions."