Artificial intelligence in agriculture - why it is necessary
After an extremely hot summer we are interested in different solutions that can help us. One thing is knowledge - i.e will the climate change affect next year's weather in the same way as this year?
Usually when we talk about AI in food tech, our minds go to the cool new gadgets that you can use in your kitchen. The smart robot that picks and reads you the recipe while you’re cooking. The oven and fridge that are connected to your smartphone and lets you control them through it, or the apps that lets you take control of your diet in a million different ways.
These are all great innovations, and we are going to talk more about them in later articles. But today we are going to focus on the bigger picture. The global food production - and how AI must be utilized if we are to supply an ever-growing population with more food. This is really the BIG PICTURE. We need to succeed in this area, our future depends on it.
Thomas Malthus - Essay on the principle of population
Some background as to why AI will play an important role in our food production. In the 19th century Thomas Malthus argued that the population of the Earth grows by geometric progression (1, 2, 4, 8, etc) but our food supply only grows in arithmetic progression (1, 2, 3, 4, etc). Therefore Malthus meant that we would never be able to fully supply the whole population, since the food production can never keep up with the increasing population.
And if you just look at the numbers and his assumptions, he is right. Right now there are around 800 million people in the world lacking sufficient food to lead a healthy active life. The UN estimates that the population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050 - and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that food production will have to grow by 70% if you are going to be able to feed everyone.
So how is this going to be possible?!
AI in agricultural tech
One thing that Malthus failed to take into account when projecting his future dystopia was - technology. The technological leaps that mankind has taken since Malthus was alive and kicking - are astonishing. If he would have seen what we can do now with the help of technology, maybe his views would have been a bit more positive.
Many millions are now being invested in agritech and we are already beginning to see some of the solutions that AI can bring to the agricultural table.
Many companies have already begun working on utilizing AI in their food production. AI can use image recognition to identify weeds, assess plant help, predict weather patterns and analyze and optimize the equipment used for farming. Basically it can predict, assess and optimize all and any issues that impact agriculture better than humans can, so that farmers can use their resources better and increase their yields.
A tech firm from Switzerland is developing a solution where they equip drones with hyperspectral cameras that capture changes in water and fertilizer use, crop yields and pests. It then analyzes the data using AI algorithms so it can bring potential issues to the farmers’ attention. It can also through its data and analysis see patterns that can be used to predict outcomes that farmers can use to invest in and apply appropriate resources.
Harvesting, another startup, are using machine learning to analyze satellite data of the Earth’s surface on a scale that humans are unable to do. They want to identify areas that require investment in the water and tools needed for farming - to help institutions and governments distribute their funds more efficiently. In that way we could guarantee that the farmers and areas that need it the most gets the most funds to support their production.
All of these are great innovations that truly give us a new way of looking at agriculture. With these new tools we can hopefully better and increase our food production to help feed the growing population of the world. Let’s all hope for their success!
AI and agriculture in the future
So where do we go from here? There is still much needed to be done for agricultural productivity to improve. The innovations that we have been talking about are still at an early stage and only available to the already developed world. When you look at the traditional outdated farming practices that are still being used in many parts of the world - you are shocked. The biggest problem of all is maybe the waste. A study made by Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimated that 550 billion litres are wasted annually in crop production. If that would be solved, it could raise production by 60% or more! And AI will have a big part to play in this as well.
AI in agriculture and food production is still in a very early stage, but hopefully we will see the innovations and investments bear fruit soon. It is going to be needed if we are to solve the food crisis of today and the future. Hopefully we can all prove Thomas Malthus wrong - and show him how artificial intelligence helped us.