The “I’s” Have It! The Future of AI in Agriculture Technology
Updated: Feb 28
Technology by definition is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industrial operations. Technological advances have helped us build the practical environments we live in today, however, concerns about technology selling our cognitive abilities or experiences short have been expressed for decades. Novels like George Orwell’s futuristic classic 1984 and shows like the Black Mirror caution us to take a hard look at what can happen when we don’t carefully consider the risks or the consequences that can come along with the benefits of new technologies.
At the end of the day, a blend of technological advancements and applied strategies to maintain humanity is important. The question is, can we communicate tech in a way that is not “too good to be true” but realistic such as showing farmers how they could minimize costs, maximize profits, and ultimately do more with less? Is new technology always beneficial? When used as a tool, technology can be more efficient, timely, precise, and overall beneficial. When used as a crutch, technology can create mistrust, control, create financial loss, and more. Who is at the forefront of this new tech scene?
I know a guy or should I say AI.
In November, Chat GPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) came out as a cross-analyzing artificial intelligence tool that uses multiple language models to gather quick information. This tool is said to have been used to write student assignments and even passed an MBA final exam. The chatbot can also be used in business to help limit burnout, spark creativity through concise data development, and serve as the “guy in the chair.” The Chat GPT tool can be detected with software, so goodbye to cheating on school assignments (sorry students!). But what if it could be helpful in business? How about farming?
Do farmers have a guy in the chair? (Or should we say, tractor?)
In farming, automation, and mechanization can lead to improved efficiency, higher yields, and ultimately higher profits. As the world moves forward, tech advances, even in ag, so farmers can do more with less. Although Silicon Valley is a hot spot for tech, they may actually be getting things wrong when it comes to agriculture. Many laid-off Silicon Valley residents are still being called upon as tech workers to transition into the agricultural industry as they help bridge a gap in ag equipment manufacturing.
Yet, as technology is helping improve productivity, it is also limiting the number of jobs available to people in Silicon Valley. While we are accustomed to seeing tractors run with a human operator, we are seeing more and more enhancements in AI technology in the ag tech and water space.
The integration of Chat GPT in agriculture has the capacity to use predictive analytics, monitor crops and livestock through sensors, automate manual tasks like planting or harvesting, and overall conduct precision agricultural techniques as seen with companies like Bloom X. BloomX’s platform sets out to pinpoint the optimal window for pollination and then sends crop-specific hardware devices to replicate the natural pollination process. Many trade shows around the world showcase these agricultural technology triumphs that can be developed with the implementation of AI. Chat GPT also has the ability to teach farmers information on a variety of topics in a generalist way whether they need to know biology, mechanics, or finances.
Yet Chat GPT doesn’t properly identify cause and effect relationships like the cognitive ability of a farmer. Although the nature of farming is stressful, and there are skills that only a farmer can perform, maybe a marriage between AI and farmers is in the future. Some farmers are less receptive to new technology than others because they can’t afford to lose valuable time in the field to implement new and unfamiliar technology. This hesitancy shouldn’t keep the technology from moving forward. There are so many instances where AI can be a valuable tool to farmers in their fields or in their offices. These could include quickly drafting email templates, letters, or other agribusiness tasks to help them keep rolling. AI and other technology can help with monitoring and revising farming efforts done by many using the human eye. This is to ensure AI properly addresses customer feedback and gauges product/service success, especially in business. There is still more work for AI to do to master the abilities farmers need to run their businesses successfully without frequent issues.
In the meantime, what help is out there when trying to master all things technology, AI, or even day-to-day technology management like using a phone, updating a website, etc.?
Time to plug in
There are many technical assistance resources available such as techhubs across multiple organizations and college resource centers like our partners over at College of the Sequoias. These organizations host periodic workshops and training sessions that can assist all businesses in their endeavors, not just agriculture. Another one of our partners, The Pi Shop, offers assistance with the integration of customer support lines and resources to accelerate product development, generating a positive movement for technology as we are already seeing with AI. In short, technology can be used by anyone, for anything, and we see more and more companies rely on technology to perform everyday tasks. Small businesses, for example, are using technology to their advantage to help keep them resilient.
Programs like the WET Center’s Central Valley iHUB connect businesses that are in need of assistance to organizations as part of our wider network that includes many of the resources listed above. iHUB partners like the Women’s Entrepreneur Center and the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State are other fantastic organizations here to help businesses in the Central Valley to be more productive and grow.
What's on deck for new tech?
Support for new technology is out there! The federal government plans to implement innovation initiatives going forward, especially as we compete with Europe which has the fastest adoption of ag technology. To ensure we don’t get left behind, it’s important to see what we can do differently to accelerate innovation. AI, and many other technology-based applications, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Funding & Other Opportunities
AgFunder's Fund IV for Next Gen Ag Tech
California Energy Commission Clean Energy & Technology Grants
NSF Small Business Innovation Research/ Small Business Technology Transfer Program Phase I (SBIR/STTR Phase I)
Deadline: March 1, 2023
CalSEED Applications Are Open!
Deadline: Through March 5
GFO-22-301 – Commercialization Industrial Decarbonization (2022 CID Program)
Deadline: March 6, 2023
Deadline: April 30, 2023
California Department of Water Resources-Small Community Drought Relief Program
Deadline: Until December 2023
Additional funding and other opportunities!
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