Artificial intelligence: a sustainable approach to today’s farming
When it comes to technology, I would not consider myself an early adopter.
I prefer chatting with a cashier to using a self-checkout. I write lists with a pen and paper instead of an app on my phone. And I’m often asking my smart-device-loving-husband, “What the heck do we need that for?”
However, I can even recognize the good technology can do. Particularly when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in farming and its role in animal care and sustainability.
Here are a few examples of AI in agriculture I find especially fascinating:
- Some dairy farms use AI to milk their cows. The robot can autonomously hook itself up to a cow’s udders and simultaneously track how much milk she produces and important health metrics. These data points help farmers make needed adjustments to a cow’s diet to ensure she is receiving all the nutritional requirements needed to live comfortably. This means a cow is meeting her milking potential without sacrificing her overall wellbeing.
- While not yet widely adopted, a newer innovation in pig farming is AI to monitor individual pigs in a pen. Cameras can differentiate between pigs and monitor their activity, feeding habits and weight. This allows farmers to provide individual care and also take a pig to market at the correct weight. A farmer I talked to recently was fascinated by this technology but was cautious about if it would pencil out. A valid point with farm inputs being incredibly high right now and the average Iowa pig farmer losing nearly $56 per animal sold this past May. Universities have also been exploring AI’s role in early diagnosis of respiratory illnesses in dairy calves with nearly 90% accuracy.
- There is new sprayer technology on the market that allows a machine to roll through a field and identify what is a weed and what is a crop. With this type of precision, individual weeds are targeted with herbicide. It’s worth mentioning as you see sprayers rolling across Iowa’s fields, the amount of actual chemical sprayed per acre is equivalent to your large, trendy Stanley cup—the rest is water. However, with “see and spray” technology, resources can be further reduced. Drones have also been instrumental in identifying problem areas in a field and applying targeted crop protection.
In my opinion, AI won’t necessarily change the “face” of agriculture. That face will always belong to the family farmer who continuously adopts innovation to make the farm better for his or her animals and the environment.
These machines don’t have the heart or a calling to continue a family legacy. However, they can assist in providing the decision-making data to make that dream a reality.
Even this laggard can understand why the heck someone would want that.
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