Stories | July 30, 2018 | Read Time: 3 minutes
The Promise of AI for Agriculture
Growing up in India, I used to visit my grandparents in Punjab and go to their cotton and wheat farms. My memories from those days include farmers riding bullock-driven carts tilling the fields, applying fertilizer by hand, or harvesting the crop using manual tools. That perception of the farm, although idyllic and simple, is actually outdated, old-fashioned and inefficient.
Agriculture today is rife with digital innovations. Equipment, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are helping farms of all sizes produce more while using fewer resources. AI-based digital tools are enhancing decision-making for farmers. For example, farmers can use a sophisticated mix of data, analytics, hardware and software, and unique algorithms to go beyond what the eye can see to make informed decisions about their operations. AI can also help farmers select the best seeds, apply crop protection exactly where it is needed, or diagnose plant diseases threatening their crops in real-time.
At Monsanto, we are a digital company focused on agriculture.
This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Tech Alpharetta: Ag Tech Conference of the South where I discussed how we are applying AI to develop better products, make our supply chain more efficient and improve customer experience for farmers. We are combining AI with all of our R&D platforms—plant breeding, plant biotechnology, crop protection, ag biologicals and digital advisors—and developing solutions by integrating all of these platforms. Much like the iconic launch of the iPhone as a device that integrates the phone, iPod, and internet into one device, we are aiming to deliver simplified and personalized integrated solutions to address the diverse needs of farmers. AI underpins these efforts.
Five Elements for Success in AI
We’ve been on this journey for years now at Monsanto, and during that time we’ve identified five key elements for success in AI:
- Asking the right questions that will provide the most value
- Availability of data along with ability to cleanse, steward, and secure it
- Talent mix to bring the right domain, math, and engineering knowledge
- Technology to process the data at scale
- Partnerships to accelerate innovation
We’ve been making steady progress in each of these areas, which has led us to make advances and innovations that are delivering value to farmers.
Humans + AI
While we and others across many industries have recognized the potential and value of AI, many view the conversation around AI as humans vs. AI. It’s not Humans vs. AI; it’s Humans + AI. Time and again, we have seen that combining human intelligence with artificial intelligence is more powerful than artificial intelligence on its own. Farmers have always collected and evaluated a large amount of data each growing season. Over time, the farmer’s ledger book was replaced by spreadsheets stored on USB drives. Now, we have real-time reports enabled by field monitoring equipment, enriched by AI, and available to farmers on tablets or smartphones. New digital tools offer farmers customized insights with a few taps on a screen. This truly changes the way they can spend their days and make decisions on the farm. That is the promise of AI for agriculture.