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Turning to AI for help

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REACHING AHEAD: The push for artificial intelligence will have considerable value in a number of areas in agriculture. And as the farm labor picture changes, you’re going to need it.
Expert systems, sensors and other tools are making machines smarter, but there’s a reason

The phrase artificial intelligence is again in the news with the Executive Order from President Trump calling on companies to focus their attention on this increasingly important tool. With artificial intelligence, or machine learning, machines and computers become more adept at helping users do their jobs.

This is not the first sign of the computer takeover, or for those of you more up on your movie trivia, the early days of Skynet. Instead, these systems can help you do your job better. Or, as is the real need for these tools, it can help others with less experience do the work of a pro.

Expert systems, which are essentially elementary foundations for future artificial intelligence – or AI - systems that have more “mental horsepower” are already at work on machines. From transmissions with software that makes sure the pickup truck or tractor maximize the power to efficiency ratio for best performance; to combine systems that auto-adjust harvest settings to maintain a super clean grain sample on the go, you may already be benefiting from the early days of this technology.

Agriculture has a labor shortage. This has long driven machine innovation. Would the Vermeer family have made the first commercially successful round baler if the countryside was filled with eager high school lads and lasses awaiting spring’s first cutting?

The need to do more work on larger farms with less workers is driving a lot of change in the machine side of agriculture. And that’s going to continue. Where AI will play a role in your operation remains to be seen. But I’ve seen systems that can predict crop water needs based on formulas and weather data for more efficient water use. There are tools that see weeds and spray only the intended target.

This technology offers farmers tremendous opportunity; and the industry is just getting started. The key too is that AI is at work behind the scenes helping with hybrid and variety selection. There are systems that will take aerial imagery and determine the best course of action for your farm in season from fungicide use to nitrogen applications.

Of course we have a way to go before all this stuff works and is, frankly, affordable. But from the startups that are at work to the research actions at major companies, expect some interesting tech coming your way in the future.

As for that “computer overlord” worry? Anything that can help you do your job more easily or more accurately has value. There’s little doubt you’ll be replaced anytime soon, and opening to the idea of these new tools and how they may work on your farm is important.

Not all of it is tech

When I travel to a farm show, I’m always intrigued by the technology I see, but not every innovation has an electronic or computer component. And that’s fun too. From new ways to plant more efficiently, to better ways to transport materials or livestock; innovation comes in many forms.

The key is identifying the need you have and seeking out the solutions offered in the market. With big shows coming this spring – up through Commodity Classic and the MidSouth Gin Show – there’s one piece of advice I have: Happy hunting.

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