Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part two.

Artificial Intelligence, Robots and Virtual Reality

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When we think of robots, AI or virtual reality we probably think of the movie I Robot, or the Holodeck from Star Trek, but augmented reality is already being used in some sectors to train staff remotely. “What would it be like if I could call a dealer and put on a set of goggles and he walks me through how to reassemble my bailer,” says Seymour. “How does that change how we look at agriculture labour and the type of skills we need? How does it change how we interact with our dealerships? They are doing this already in other sectors; it’s just not quite agriculture ready.”

In a number of industries, robots have been welding, painting and doing other functional tasks for decades. Robotic milkers in dairies have freed up producers to focus to cattle health and helped solve challenges in recruiting labour. In horticulture, a prototype robotic apple picker is being developed that identifies when the apple is ripe and picks it.

Driverless technology is going to be a real game-changer. A modern electric vehicle has only 21 moving parts compared to 2000 in a conventional vehicle. As this next generation technology continues to develop, there may be no need for dealerships because there are no maintenance issues, said Seymour. “What does that look like in Ag equipment if we could redesign the engines on equipment? Our service needs change dramatically,” he added.

SeedMaster has already developed DOT, a driverless air drill with a roller, grain tank and sprayer. “DOT can cover 2,500 acres, so will the next generation of modern farm be built on 2,500-acre increments,” said Seymour. “This technology is here. Their challenge is there’s no regulatory platform yet to driving on the road to haul it from field to field.”

3D printing is another technology already in use that could potentially revolutionize farm equipment dealerships. “A modern dealership with a 3D printer might have a whole bunch of polymers and we send in the code to print the belt, bearing and bolt just in time to deliver,” said Seymour. “Some farm equipment dealers with multiple locations have $15 million in overhead just carrying parts. So, what would it take to get that off the books? Does that change how we manage our inventory at dealership level? Does it drive efficiency to the Ag market, absolutely?”

Connecting and Managing Data

Most farmers already collect data, whether it’s from the yield monitor on the combine or satellite imagery of their fields. The future will be about connecting that data so farmers can make better management decisions and be more transparent and accountable to increasingly discerning consumers who want to know where their food is coming from.

“Where we’re heading with data management is the de-centralization of data,” said Seymour. “It’s housed all over and it’s rooted in blockchain. Most people have heard of the virtual currency, Bitcoin. Blockchain is the process by which this money moves around.”

Blockchain is a software platform for digital assets that is mainly being used by financial institutions and stock exchanges to handle transactions. It uses distributed ledger technology (DLT) that creates a digital, de-centralized, public ledger that eliminates human error and is less likely to be tampered with, which helps prevent fraud.

Seymour believes blockchain technology could and will move traceability to another level. “Farmers would have a ledger, which would be the blockchain where they input their data at farm level and anybody can access it at any time,” he said. “Consumers will want to know which crop protection tools you used, how your cattle were fed, and any data you have would be loaded in the system. This isn’t very far away.”It’s an emerging risk management tool in the food and food processing industries,” says Seymour. “Inevitably, it will eventually flow to farmers.”

Helping to make these technologies possible is the development of sensors, which is a huge growth industry. As sensors are developed for every application imaginable, they become exponentially cheaper and more useful in our daily lives.  “If young people aren’t sure what to do in their careers, go to school and learn math, learn how to write algorithms and interpret data because that’s where the real money is going to be made is by the people who can take the data you’re collecting and turn it into knowledgeable decisions that we can learn to use,” said Seymour.

A great example is in irrigation he added. Today, we have soil sensors in irrigation that detect when it’s dry and turn on the water. The next generation of sensors and data management will say the soil is dry, the plant’s in the two-leaf stage, the weather forecast calls for two-tenths of rain in three days, now turn on the water. “That’s where this industry is heading so the kind of skilled jobs we need in agriculture is going to be how we fix the sensors and how we manage the data within the sensors,” said Seymour.

Coming soon: Is Your Farm Ready for the Future? Part three…Genetics, Plant and Cultured Proteins

©2018, Angela Lovell.

For permission to publish or reproduce this article contact Angela Lovell Communications below:

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