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Skilled farmers still needed in age of AI

The active management, intelligence and experience of a skilled farmer will still be needed in the age of AI.

John Hart, Associate Editor

April 17, 2024

2 Min Read
farmers using tablet for precision agriculture
gpointstudio/Getty Images/iStock

Psychologists tell us that our brains are programmed to be alert for danger. It is key to our survival. Being alert for danger is key for successful farming as well: farmers know they have to be alert for the threats of weather and pests if they are going to successfully produce a crop. 

The tendency to be alert for danger explains why there is so much trepidation when it comes to artificial intelligence or AI. AI holds great promise to make farming more productive and bring precision agriculture to the next level, but there are still many unknowns. Will machines replace humans when it comes to producing crops? Or will AI be a powerful tool that makes planting, pest control and harvesting more efficient? 

AI is already finding a place on the farm. Drones can monitor field conditions and collect data that is impossible to do with the human eye, allowing for precise applications of pesticides. Machine learning is used in smart spraying systems that target weeds, not crops.  

Generative AI is expected to fundamentally change agriculture. As my colleague Andy Castillo reports from the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit held recently in San Francisco, generative AI can create new concepts and learn on its own. Elliot Grant, CEO of Mineral, which is Google’s ag tech brand, says its growth and corresponding impact on farm machinery over the next five years can’t be understated, according to Andy’s reporting. 

Related:Ag tech businesses bet big on artificial intelligence

At the summit, panelists predicted that in the next five years, AI will bring true automation to farm machinery. Maya Sripadam, senior product manager at Blue River Technology, which is owned by John Deere, said when AI is fully realized, farmers won’t have to drive machines at the 11th hour. AI stands to take them out of the field and put them in a more fulfilling place, Andy reports. 

“Five years and beyond, a farmer’s life will get better,” she says. “They’ll be able to go to their kids’ games, eat a hot meal and have a better work-life balance, because autonomous machines will make a difference.” 

The future sounds exciting, but I doubt anyone expects a farming utopia where a farmer will use a smartphone to command machines to plant their corn crop in Iowa while they are sipping cocktails on a beach in Maui. The active management, intelligence, and experience of a skilled farmer will still be needed in the age of AI.  

Indeed, farmers will need to continue to use their inborn trait of being alert for danger to produce a profitable crop. They will need to continue to remain alert for the danger of bad weather and invasive weeds, diseases, and insects. Moreover, they will need to remain alert for unattended consequences of AI. The good news is farmers are up to the task. 

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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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