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Ploughing ahead with AI

Ploughing ahead with AI

OPINION – Thomas Hall, Agtech and Logistics Hub Director

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is front and centre these days, dominating media headlines and discussions on social media.

From ChatGPT to robotics, businesses everywhere are asking the question, ‘how can we make AI work for us?’

And those in the agricultural sector are no exception.

Their interest is hardly surprising given we’re starting to see AI revolutionising our industry. Farmers, for instance, can use it to increase productivity, optimise crop management for higher yields and improve sustainability by being more precise with chemical spraying and water usage, while also overcoming challenges such as labour shortages.

Growers are already using agricultural robots for often mundane and laborious tasks such as planting, harvesting and weeding.

Also rapidly rising is the number of farmers adopting AI-powered drones and satellites to monitor their farms remotely and identify areas of a crop that need attention.

Other forms of AI are also emerging, such as fully autonomous vehicles that can identify and spray weeds.

In Australian agriculture, a type of AI we are seeing take off is machine vision, which involves the integration of sensors, cameras and high-speed connectivity to enable computers to ‘see’, analyse and make informed decisions. In food production, for example, machine vision can be used to inspect and sort food, ensuring quality and safety standards are met.

Something else gaining ground in the sector is AI-driven analytics and biochemistry, including the analysis of data related to soil chemistry, crop health, nutritional content and food safety. This detailed analysis can be used to make farming practices more precise which leads to improved yields, resource utilisation and sustainability.

It’s exciting stuff, but while many agribusinesses are keen to integrate AI into their operations, some aren’t exactly sure how to do it.

We know there are various challenges agribusinesses face when it comes to AI adoption, particularly around technical expertise and connectivity.

One of the keys to unlocking the full potential of agricultural AI is 5G, or the ‘fifth generation’ of wireless network technology, which is up to 100 times faster than 4G network used by much of the population.

AI is already a key part of 5G networks. It’s important to remember 5G is not a phone, but a facilitator of connectivity with ultra-low latency which allows AI systems to process massive amounts of data to and from farming equipment and devices almost instantly, enabling faster insights and decision making.

Consider the possibility of using robotics to pack boxes of avocados. Using 4G technology, the movement of the robotic arm would be relatively slow and require a specific amount of time to pack one box. However, with the implementation of 5G technology, the robotic arm is able to move more quickly and precisely, resulting in the same box being packed in half the time.

Late last year, AgriBusiness Connect, which operates the Agtech and Logistics Hub, entered an agreement with Ericsson to explore the potential of 5G in Australia’s agricultural sector. The agreement covers training and education for workers and a goal to increase awareness around the applications of 5G in agriculture value chains.   

It’s an important step in expanding the use of 5G in the agricultural sector and advancing the use of AI from paddocks to food production lines.

With a growing global population, demand on our food supply will only continue to accelerate, bringing into demand AI’s ability to maximise Australia’s agriculture output, while also reducing waste and the industry’s ecological footprint. 

This piece was originally published in the March 2024 edition of Queensland Farmer Today.

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Agtech and Logistics Hub acknowledges the people, the traditional owners of the land where the hub is established and the region – the Gaibal, Keinjan, Barunggam and Jarowair peoples. Their history is our history. We pay our respect to their ancestors and their descendants, who continue cultural and spiritual connections to country.
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