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AI on the farm conjures fear, excitement

Commentary: Farmers will accept AI to help improve efficiency, reduce costs and build profit, if they are guaranteed privacy and ownership of their data.

John Hart

January 25, 2024

2 Min Read
tractor technology
Ekkasit919/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In many ways the greatest fear of artificial intelligence or AI lies in the name itself. “Artificial intelligence” conjures up the stuff of sci-fi movies where robots rule the earth and humanity is subservient to them. 

Certainly, that is just the stuff of science fiction. But there are concerns about AI and the impact it will have on each of us as it becomes more prevalent. “Artificial intelligence” is also the latest buzzword in agriculture where many see great promise in using robots, computer vision, and machine learning to better control pests and efficiently manage all aspects of the crop from planting to harvest.  

AI’s proponents say it is just the newest phase of precision agriculture where fertilizers, irrigation, and pesticides are applied only when needed. They say this will lower crop inputs and improve profitability while such technology as driverless tractors and combines will lessen manpower needs. 

Big data will be a big part of AI on the farm which will allow farmers to make decisions based on precise, real-time information to reduce costs and increase productivity. Big data is also a concern with AI in agriculture with ongoing debate on who owns the data a farmer gathers. 

In his Aug. 30, 2023 Zipline column, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall pinpointed the concern about data privacy on the farm. While AI can improve data management on the farm, Duvall remains concerned about data privacy. “No tool should place the sensitive information collected from farms and ranches at risk,” Duvall wrote. 

Data privacy was also top of mind of a panel discussion of AI at the North Carolina Commodity Conference Jan. 11 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham. Cranos Williams, platform director for the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative at North Carolina State University, made it clear that it must be declared all across the board that the farmer owns the data on their farm, period. 

“They have the option to opt in, they have the option to opt out at any point in time and that needs to be a standard across the board. I think once that’s done, you get a better understanding of the level of value,” Williams said. 

Farmers will accept AI if they are guaranteed privacy and ownership of their data. They will adapt new technology if it helps them improve efficiency, reduce costs, and build yields and profitability. They will welcome AI if it makes them better, more productive farmers. 

The potential for artificial intelligence on the farm is exciting. One thing is certain, though, the intelligence of farmers is far from “artificial.” The intelligence of farmers is real and profound, and machine learning will never replace the ingenuity and decision-making abilities of farmers who are highly skilled in their calling.  

About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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