May 14, 2024

Feeding a Growing Population: AI in Agriculture Cultivating the Food of Tomorrow

Agriculture needs a revolution with a nearly 3 billion-person population boom in 50 years. AI is delivering it, with self-driving tractors harvesting vast fields and drones wielding targeted pesticides to ensure food security for generations to come.

6 min read

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Paul Estes

For 20 years, Paul struggled to balance his home life with fast-moving leadership roles at Dell, Amazon, and Microsoft, where he led a team of progressive HR, procurement, and legal trailblazers to launch Microsoft’s Gig Economy freelance program

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  • Drastic global population increases of nearly 30% over 50 years put intense pressure on the agricultural industry.

  • AI enables the large-scale automation of agricultural infrastructure. AI tractors harvest over 325 acres of farmland daily, enhancing farm productivity and reducing manual labor requirements.

  • AI in agriculture reduces CO2 emissions and enables the precision use of pesticides, reducing farming's environmental impact by 30%.

Staff writer

From AI to FinOps, our team's collective brainpower fuels this blog.

The population is set to surge by nearly 30% over the next 50 years, increasing strain on the global food supply. 

Agricultural infrastructure is the core solution to rising food demand. Farmers worldwide need to enhance productivity, improve farming processes, and develop pest-resistant crops to satisfy this demand. 

Yet, as pressure on the agricultural industry continues to increase, farmers must develop strategies to overcome labor shortages, reduce the environmental impact of pesticides, and maintain high yields for years to come. 

Source: The global world population forecast from 2022 to 2090.

In light of these challenges, AI in agriculture represents an effective solution. It enhances productivity rates, automates core processes, and provides a resistant architecture that minimizes crop loss.

The AI Advantage: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Agriculture

Businesses are turning to artificial intelligence in the context of a rising global population and increasing pressure on international agricultural infrastructure.

AI in agriculture drives farmer productivity through automation, enhancing yields through precision crop protection, and boosting profitability by enabling larger harvests. There are three central categories where AI in agriculture is actively shaping the industry for the better:

  • Precision Agriculture: Artificial intelligence can precisely monitor fields to enable enhanced resource allocation. From measured irrigation to single-plant-specific distribution of fertilizer and pesticides, precision agriculture improves crop care and increases yields.
  • Predictive Analytics: AI can pull from vast datasets, spanning historical crop yields, soil condition data over time, and weather patterns to generate highly accurate predictive reports. Farmers can use these reports to predict future crop yields, identify issues in farmland, and optimize their yearly planting schedules. Agricultural vendors can better understand their crops with AI-enabled predictive analytics, taking proactive measures to minimize crop loss and maximize yearly yields. 
  • Automation: The agricultural industry continually has many time-consuming and labor-intensive farming tasks. From weeding and harvesting to livestock monitoring, farmers across the globe spend their valuable time on vital but monotonous tasks. Farmers can use AI-powered robot systems like self-driving tractors to reduce the time taken to complete these tasks by leveraging AI tools. In doing so, farmers using AI tools enhance productivity while creating more time for other activities. 

Let’s bring these benefits of AI in agriculture to life with examples of how multinational corporations are already using AI to enhance farming, crop protection, and transportation.

The Algorithmic Orchard: How Bayer is Using AI for Precision Crop Care

Bayer, an international powerhouse in the agricultural industry, has over 150 years of experience using science to enhance crop yields. 

Since the early 1990s, the worldwide agricultural use of pesticides has steadily increased. While pesticides protect food and ensure a more bountiful yield, they also contaminate soil, water, and air. Pesticides are one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss and are linked to human chronic illness. 

Source: The use of pesticides across the globe between 1990 to 2021.

Bayer identifies the use of pesticides as both a human and environmental concern and is leveraging technology to reduce its usage. Using artificial intelligence and drones, Bayer sends fleets of airborne drones into its fields. Monitoring crop health with cameras and AI-enabled identification can rapidly assess diseases and insects.

In seconds, Bayer’s AI software can identify over 140 weed types and numerous insect types from over 20 countries. Armed with this information, they can mobilize drones only to spray pesticides on an individual plant level. Instead of spraying whole fields, this ensures that only plans that need additional protection receive pesticides.

By 2030, this solution provided by AI in agriculture will help reduce the environmental impact of crop production by 30%. AI enables Bayer to enhance agricultural practices, reduce crop risk, and boost successful yield volumes. 

John Deere and the Rise of the Robot Farmer

As the global population rises, businesses are turning to AI in agriculture to provide the infrastructure for more effective harvesting. John Deere is at the forefront of this trend, having pioneered AI-controlled tractors. 

Armed with computer vision, these tractors can navigate fields and work independently—day or night. Without the need for farmers to operate tractors, this technology frees up time for farmers while enhancing the productivity of crop harvesting.

Deere’s AI tractors can cover 325 acres of land in 24 hours, radically enhancing farming productivity while decreasing the possibility of human harvesting errors. Working throughout the day and night, with only 100 milliseconds needed to make a decision, AI tractors are precise technology that completely automates time-consuming harvesting practices.

Deanna Kovar, President of Worldwide Agriculture for Europe, Asia, and Africa at Deere & Company, demonstrates just how easy AI tractors make farming:

“All farmers need to do is transport their tractor to the field, get it set, get out the cab, and use their mobile phone to ‘swipe to farm.”

Instead of spending long days driving around fields, farmers can concentrate on other tasks, freeing up their schedules for higher-value activities. Moreover, autonomous tractors help actively solve the labor shortage that US farms face.

From Farm to Table: AI in the Food Supply Chain

Walmart is one of the world’s largest brands and a leading US supermarket, having pulled in total revenue of nearly $650 billion in 2024. As one of the primary sellers of agricultural produce in the US, Walmart is another company using artificial intelligence to spearhead the development of more sustainable food practices.

Over the past few years, Walmart has introduced artificial intelligence into its supply chain, using it to monitor production during the journey, optimize travel routes, and control the temperature of transport vehicles. 

Walmart’s AI transport route optimization has avoided 94 million pounds of CO2 emissions by mitigating over 30 million unnecessary miles of driving. In addition to direct environmental benefits, Walmart designs AI-enhanced transport vehicles to control the conditions in which food is stored. 

Fresh from a farm, Walmart uses AI to carefully monitor travel conditions, altering temperatures to ensure food remains fresh throughout the journey. 

Walmart also employs AI’s advanced predictive analytics capabilities to identify potential future disruptions in the supply chain and develop mitigative strategies. Walmart can take preemptive steps to overcome potential disruptions and ensure food arrives at stores promptly and with a 0% spoil rate.

Even after produce arrives in stores, Walmart continues to use AI technology to actively monitor the quality of produce and alert salespeople if they need to sell a product before it goes bad. Considering that the US generates 66.22 million tons of food waste yearly, these AI-first strategies will help lower that figure and ensure no food goes wasted in store. 

Walmart has integrated AI into agriculture supply chain links, creating a more sustainable system that ensures food stays as fresh as possible. 

The Future of AI in Agriculture: A Look Ahead 

Artificial intelligence is already having a dramatic impact on the overall productivity and efficiency of the agricultural industry. Businesses like Walmart, John Deere, and Bayer demonstrate an excellent use of AI in agriculture, automating processes, enhancing farming infrastructure, and creating resilient agricultural supply chains. 

Yet, alongside the current active deployments of AI in this field, academics and industry experts publish more research that promises to further AI’s utility in agriculture. On the horizon are expansions like AI-powered crop breeding, indoor automated vertical farming, and fleets of autonomous farming vehicles for planting.

As an industry that will become more pressured over the next few years, artificial intelligence is a powerful solution that ensures food security for future generations.

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