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AI tech conference closes gap between researchers, farmers

Growers tell scientists: Here’s what we need from AI technology.

13 Slides

There’s a fairly wide gap in both culture and knowledge base between the scientists who develop precision agriculture technology and the farmers who utilize it.

These groups must collaborate to feed a hungry and growing population, especially given water concerns and climate change. “We need to use any technology that can help us meet those needs,” says Ali Fares, Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture Conference co-chair.


Texas A&M’s recent Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture and Natural Resources conference tried to span that gap by bringing the two groups together. More than 300 attendees heard from tech and university leaders, and a grower panel who shared pressing needs and concerns over artificial intelligence.

The panel was particularly beneficial for students, according to Seth Murray, the event’s other co-chair.

“What we heard from that panel, over and over, is that they want the easy button. AI can certainly help with that,” he says, highlighting the importance of letting students hear directly from farmers because researchers don’t always understand farmers. The opposite is also true.


Murray intimately understands this dichotomy. When he’s not teaching at the College Station university, he manages a farm about 15 minutes from campus. Even though he teaches about emerging farm technologies and helped organize the AI conference, the tools he uses on his own land are decidedly not tech-forward.

Related:How can AI add value on the farm?

“My tractor is a 1965 John Deere 2510,” Murray says. While it isn’t AI-enabled, “Man, it’s a workforce. I’ve been on the gravel [reparing machinery] until 4 a.m. if something breaks.”

Farm data disconnect?

As a corn breeder, Murray says he tries to educate his peers on future technologies at annual meetings. It’s always a struggle because the research he engages with at the university, while grounded in scientific data, is “pretty disconnected from the farmer. Their question is: ‘How is this going to help me next year?’”


Public sector research requires private sector investment to make it from lab to farm. That process can sometimes take a while. Even so, while the more than 100 research presentations on topics ranging from predictive modeling to drone imaging delivered at Texas A&M’s conference might not immediately impact the bottom line of American farmers, some of them will in the future. And given the stressors that shrink margins every year, it behooves farmers to take note of future innovation—even if it’s still a little abstract.

Connect with farmer needs

The opposite is also true.

Related:How will AI impact farming?

Sometimes, Fares says university researchers can become too engaged with their own interests and lose sight of the bigger picture. Farmers, the end user, must remain at the center of all agricultural research. Afterall, they’re the ones who will ultimately implement the tools. And if it isn’t useful for farmers, it won’t make it very far.

“The conference highlights, in my opinion, the relationship between farmers and scientists, and the need for stronger collaboration and communication between all of these players,” Fares says. “Farmers need to be heard. We need to understand what their challenges are.”

Take a look through this gallery to see who attended this year's conference.

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About the Author(s)

Andy Castillo

Andy Castillo started his career in journalism about a decade ago as a television news cameraperson and producer before transitioning to a regional newspaper covering western Massachusetts, where he wrote about local farming.

Between military deployments with the Air Force and the news, he earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University, building on the English degree he earned from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He's a multifaceted journalist with a diverse skill set, having previously worked as an EMT and firefighter, a nightclub photographer, caricaturist, features editor at the Greenfield Recorder and a writer for GoNomad Travel. 

Castillo splits his time between the open road and western Massachusetts with his wife, Brianna, a travel nurse who specializes in pediatric oncology, and their rescue pup, Rio. When not attending farm shows, Castillo enjoys playing music, snowboarding, writing, cooking and restoring their 1920 craftsman bungalow.

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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