How will AI change farming?

It’s not a matter of if, but more how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will change the farming sector. But I’m not sure that robots will be the way it manifests itself in our live. For sure, it will introduce innovations that significantly enhance efficiency, productivity, and sustainability. But one of the primary ways AI is transforming agriculture is through better data processing that can be used by our current machinery.

By leveraging data and sophisticated algorithms, farming can improve how they use inputs. AI-powered sensors, can collect a greater number of data points and process that data to monitor soil health, moisture levels, and crop conditions (even in real-time), enabling precise application of water, better use of foliar fertilisers, and crop protection products. However, wouldn’t it just be nice to get a better weather forecast!

AI automated machinery has received massive funding from Innovate UK, over £11m in the last 5 years with just 3 companies (two of which have already gone into administration). I don’t see automated machinery changing our lives in the next 10 years. While, these machines can handle planting, weeding, and harvesting autonomously, I always struggle to see how they fit into a smaller farming system.

If you only have one tractor, you need a robot as well as the tractor, so the capital savings just don’t exist. If you have 10 tractors, it’s a different matter. The real areas where I think we will see change, is in countries with marginal farming land. Land that could previously not be farmed, could become farmable.

Did you know they are now growing large scale wheat in the UAE? A country known for oil, vast deserts and 40 degree temperature. Smart irrigation systems are benefiting from AI advancements. These systems use AI to optimise water usage, reducing waste and ensuring crops receive the right amount of water at the right time. IoT sensors collect data on soil moisture, weather conditions, and crop needs, which AI algorithms then use to automate irrigation schedules.

Additionally, AI models predict drought conditions, allowing pre-emptive measures to conserve water. But is more food production abroad good news for the UK? That probably depends on population growth abroad as well.