March 31, 2021 at 11:30am
Dane Lisser

Dr. J. Mark Munoz shares insight into the potential of Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture

Agriculture, like many things, has changed significantly in modern times. Some industry experts say agriculture will have to revolutionize by embracing artificial intelligence (AI). 

AI is what we see all around us in computers today: intelligent systems that have been taught or have learned how to carry out specific tasks without being explicitly programmed how to do so.

AI-assisted farming may be the next step in agriculture. The agriculture industry is turning to artificial intelligence technologies to help yield healthier crops, control pests, monitor soil and growing conditions, organize data for farmers, help with the workload and improve a wide range of agriculture-related tasks in the entire food supply chain.

In a special edition from USA Today released March 2021, Dr. J. Mark Munoz, professor of management at Millikin University, offered his views on AI's potential in agriculture.

Dr. J. Mark Munoz

"As agriculture revolutions go, it is not as obvious as, say, the invention of the plow, but it would be no less profound," Munoz said. "There are farms across the U.S. and around the world that are radically transforming agriculture."

The reason behind the emerging revolution of AI in agriculture is simple: more mouths to feed. The human population is currently projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, and with changes in diets favoring animal over plant protein, the agriculture industry will need to make 70 percent more calories for consumption available – all the while dealing with the increased challenges of climate change and dwindling water supplies.

Some of the more important keys behind the emergence of AI in agriculture include moving computing to the "cloud," a term for off-site servers storing processing data instead of farmers having to buy and maintain costly and bulky hardware. Another factor is the use of drones for data collection, which are equipped with cameras and sensors used to survey fields and livestock from above.

Another key proponent is tracking movements of animals and using AI programs to analyze their behaviors to reveal when the animals are getting sick, ready to give birth or go into estrus. Lastly, precision planting is a data-driven approach that extends to the time before a single seed even goes into a planned row of crops. By collecting data on multiple seasons of growing dynamics, real-time soil parameters and weather forecasts, AI can empower farmers to know what crop to plant when.

Mark Munoz Millikin

"Optimal decisions can be made by finding the right crop, for the right place at the right time," Munoz said.

According to a 2019 Markets and Markets report, AI in the agriculture industry had a value of about half a billion dollars, but with major growth estimated in the years ahead, the report predicts it will reach $4 billion globally in 2026.

"This data snapshot suggests that AI usage in farms across the U.S. and around the world is practically still in its infancy," Munoz said. "There is so much room for growth and at a very rapid pace."

Mark Munoz

So what are some of the challenges that lie ahead for the industry? Extending the benefits of AI to small-holder farmers, who make up more than 70 percent of farmers worldwide, will be a challenge because the physical infrastructure of the internet has not yet reached some developing countries. Another hurdle is addressing the widespread lack of fulfillment.

"The heightened competition among farmers in the quest for 'more intelligent' farms sets the stage for even more amazing technological breakthroughs," Munoz said.   

Dr. J. Mark Munoz

Dr. J. Mark Munoz is professor of management at Millikin University and former Visiting Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is a recipient of several awards including four Best Research Paper Awards, two international book awards, a literary award and the ACBSP Teaching Excellence Award, among others. Aside from top-tier journal publications, he has authored/edited/co-edited more than 20 books in management and economics such as "Handbook on the Geopolitics of Business," "Advances in Geoeconomics" and "Global Business Intelligence." As Chairman/CEO of the international management consulting firm Munoz and Associates International, he directs and manages consulting projects for companies worldwide.