Advanced Connectivity Solutions Help To Grow AI FarmingJason Siddall
Farming is one of the oldest professions in the world and as the population continues to grow and land becomes scarcer, farmers are needing to get more creative and efficient. In this vein, the world agricultural industry has begun turning to AI farming technologies.
According to GeoFarm South Africa, farms in the United States are 27% more productive across the same area, moisture levels and soil types than South African farms which speaks to just how fundamentally useful AI farming can be.
Machine learning and decision making in conjunction with third party data all hosted in the cloud are set to help increase productivity, yield healthier crops, control pests, monitor soil and growing conditions as well as improve a wide range of agriculture-related tasks.
AI offers an historic opportunity for South Africa to not only meet our own food requirements but to also allow us to integrate and participate in global agriculture value chains which will add to broader economic inclusion and social development. Already, some South African farmers are moving towards understanding the benefits of AI farming and making moves towards harnessing this technology as a way forward.
With the help of artificial intelligence, farmers have a real-time ability to be able to analyse a variety of important factors that affect their farming which assists them in making informed decisions, optimise planning and determine crop choices to generate more bountiful yields.
AI systems in South Africa already play a role in improving harvest quality and accuracy, sometimes referred to as “precision agriculture”. A combine harvester, such as in the case of a John Deere machine, can measure the quantity of material harvested while also recording the quality and weight. The rate of harvesting, cut area vs remaining area, yield per acre, time of completion as well as the machines mechanical and electronic condition is also calculated by the AI technology. As well as reporting on how clean the material is, the machine will make automatic adjustments to ensure optimal performance. All this information is available for the farmer or operator to view in real-time while working.
Any information gathered is housed on a cloud-based platform for the individual farmers to be able to view their farms on a personalised Operation Centre. They can also combine the data transmitted from their machines with their own historical and operational data. As the machines work, so more data is added to the Operation Centre.
To get around the fact that the machines do not have a view of the farmer’s supplier universe, farmers are able to authorise trusted third-party suppliers to share and add data to their Operation Centre. This data includes information on seeds, soil, fertilisers, GIS crop imagery, diseases, pests, weather, market prices and any other data that is relevant to the farmer’s particular crop or fields. The Operation Centre is thus even more empowered to plan, monitor and analyse the data, giving the farmer an informed view of their operation and business as well as future planning.
Additional Advantages of AI Farming
AI sensors, along with aiding in detecting pests, diseases in the crops and poor plant nutrition on farms, can detect weeds and make decisions on which herbicide to apply within a targeted buffer zone which means that there is a more precise use of herbicides keeping toxin levels much lower as far as our food is concerned.
The creation of seasonal forecasting models only adds to agricultural accuracy and increase in productivity. These forecasting models can predict upcoming weather patterns months in advance helping farmers to make important planting decisions.
Seasonal forecasting is particularly valuable for farmers with small and developing farms such as we have in South Africa, where access to data and knowledge may often be limited. Keeping the smaller farms operational and producing is important for the growth and sustainability of our food production.
AI is not just being used on the ground but in the air too. Unmanned drones flying over fields use computer vision and deep learning algorithms to process captured data. Cameras mounted to the drones can capture photographs of the entire farm and analyse them in near-real-time to identify areas that may be problematic or require improvement. Drones can cover large tracts of land in far less time than humans, which is extremely helpful for monitoring larger farms. An added advantage of drones, especially in South Africa, is that farmers can use the technology to enhance security measures and monitoring of any suspicious activity on farms.
Challenges of AI Farming
Some of the biggest challenges we face in South Africa with the green revolution is the access to technology and the cost of implementing AI farming technologies. It would also mean that large scale commercial farms would become less labour intensive which would result in both job losses and jobless growth in certain areas of agriculture.
On the other end, small scale urban farming could drive productivity and job creation. However, mechanisms to support emerging farmers need to include proper funding and structure as well as access to infrastructure in order to get the land productive and start leveraging the benefits of AI farming.
Some businesses are also concerned that the government doesn’t offer sufficient tax incentives to ensure international competitiveness. The issue around land reform and redistribution has also impacted investor confidence in the agricultural sector which has had a negative impact on how much farmers are willing to invest in their farms in general.
The Future is Now
South Africa’s commercial farmers, as well as the smaller-scale farmers, need to work on forming cooperatives to acquire intelligent machines that converse with the cloud. Contractors supplying farmers with services could do the same. Of particular significance for South Africa, the data captured by AI machines could positively encourage and enable financial institutions to fund smaller farmers who would now be able to provide a data-driven view of their performance and cash flow.
The message is clear, the fundamental need for food will never go away and AI technological innovation is certainly the catalyst to uplifting agriculture to the next level in South Africa. AI farming is the tool which will allow farms of all sizes to create new opportunities, reach strategic goals faster and more efficiently and keep us all fed.
Huge Connect is a trusted communications provider across South Africa – from busy urban centres to the most remote farmlands. We deliver dependable internet and telecommunication solutions and business connectivity, using GSM, satellite or microwave technology to ensure secure and reliable data communication. If you’re investigating AI in farming, then you’ll need to stay connected.
Contact us today about a trusted, cost-effective connectivity solution that will work for you.