Ag automation and AI

From robots milking cows, drones protecting crops and tractors driving themselves, technology is taking agriculture by storm. That was evident at Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review in September, when many new innovations were introduced to over 100,000 agriculturalists who made their way to the Molly Caren Ag Center in London.

Scott Shearer,Ph.D., professor and chair of Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, who has been on the forefront of the changing landscape of technology being used in agriculture, captured many farmers’ imaginations by demonstrating a driverless 110 horsepower Kubota M5 utility tractor at the farm show.

“When you can drop an automation package on a utility tractor, that says something to me about where we are at in terms of production agriculture today,” Shearer said. “The question is going to be uptake and how many farmers begin using this type of technology.”

Those numbers may be spurred by the companies, including more established manufacturers, that are bringing these products to market.

“John Deere came out with quite a statement in early 2022 when they introduced their fully autonomous 8R tractor,” Shearer said. “When companies like John Deere start making announcements about the use of autonomy in their equipment, you know it’s here.”

Another area of technology expanding in development within the agricultural space is artificial intelligence. Although the breadth and scope of AI’s applications seem limitless, the most prominent use of AI by farmers is for weed control. Sprayers, manufactured by John Deere, utilize 32 cameras across the spray boom to identify weed escapes within a field and only use the nozzles needed for applying herbicides directly to those areas.

“Some of the reports on this technology show herbicide reductions of 70 to 80%,” Shearer said. “To me, that’s a game changer in agriculture, and one can’t help but think of how we might use this same technology for nutrient applications and fungicides and insecticides as well.”

As with many new ideas being created to make agriculture more sustainable, the technology can only be used to its full potential if the right infrastructure is in place. For many cases, that means a solid connection to the internet, which could be a roadblock for those living in rural areas.

“That’s one of those vulnerabilities we have in the state of Ohio,” Shearer said. “Some of our internet service providers need to start thinking about agriculture a little bit differently, thinking less about how many people they service and more about how many acres they can connect to. As some of these systems are built out, that connectivity is going to be essential.”

That is where Shearer sees the policy work of Ohio Farm Bureau fitting into the conversation, not only to help lawmakers understand the importance of connecting all Ohioans to reliable broadband as quickly as possible, but to continue to monitor how data is being stored and used.

“We have been talking about data privacy and data security in agriculture for a long time,” Shearer said. “That’s where I think Farm Bureau can continue to monitor and make certain that the benefit is being realized across the industry as opposed to just certain sectors. I think that becomes pretty important in the process.”

Shearer doubts that agriculture will see significant adoption of autonomous and AI technologies overnight, but he thinks that over the next several years more progressive farmers will continue to push the envelope and use the latest technology to see how it might enhance their operation’s efficiencies.

“I think many farmers are in a ‘wait and see’ mode,” Shearer said. “They see the technology and know that it’s working and they are thinking about ways to use it on their farms. It’s an investment, just like anything else. The question is what is the payback on that investment?”

Adopting New Ag Technologies: Tips to Minimize Your Risks

Technology is changing the way you farm, and new advances have farmers dreaming about what’s next. But transitioning those dreams to reality and determining what technology is worth the investment can be an exercise in and of itself.

Adopting New Ag Technologies: Tips to Minimize Your Risks, a new Ag Intelligence Service report from the Ohio Farm Bureau in cooperation with Nationwide, will help guide your investment decision-making by honing in on four key areas you should consider before pulling the trigger on any new technology:

  • Determining whether it’s a smart financial move.
  • Evaluating your technical capabilities.
  • Considering the liability risks.
  • Making sure your valuable farm data is secure.

This report is a Farm Bureau member-only benefit. Learn more

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