Artificial intelligence in agriculture: for collecting precise and valuable information

Updata, a company based in Victoriaville, carries out artificial intelligence (AI) projects in a variety of fields. Among them, agriculture where technological advances make it possible to go further by collecting highly precise information to improve farm performance and assist in decision making.

André Baillargeon, Business Development Manager, and Maor Zaltzhendler, CEO of Updata, explain that artificial intelligence can interfere in many aspects of agriculture. Whether it is plant or market gardening, animal production, greenhouse production, processing or distribution, various processes can be used to ensure good management and as a result, better profitability can be ensured.

The term “artificial intelligence” may impress at first glance. But it is actually the collection of data by cameras, sensors, drones or others, so that they can be processed in the best way possible and thus facilitate decision making.

In crop or vegetable production, for example, at different stages may benefit from AI. “In accurate agriculture, through soil analysis, it is possible to analyze plant moisture, disease, and predict the level of fertilization to be able to take automatic action. For example, or irrigation,” Andre summed up. Thus the sensors are installed directly on the agricultural equipment so that the fields can be analyzed in real time.

As we begin to see, on farmland, fully autonomous robots are crossing the hectare, working simultaneously and analyzing production. “Agriculture is a productive business because you have to feed a lot of people. So optimization is a challenge and that’s what we’re working on, “Mao added.

In the meantime, a first phase of automation has taken place, with the arrival of equipment in the fields. “But there is always an operator,” Mao added. Thus, in the context of the labor shortage that we have known for so many years, artificial intelligence, the next stage of automation, is effective in performing tasks that no one else has to do. With the help of computer vision, for example, when artificial intelligence is added, we can see exactly where the weeds are and treat them. “It’s not about replacing people,” the CEO insisted. But simply using the workforce in the right place and leaving less interesting or repetitive tasks on technology and, consequently, increasing productivity.

In this way, a great deal of highly accurate data can be collected and analyzed in agriculture, to improve yields and facilitate decision making. This is the update, which works with Fruit D’Or in the region, a cranberry grower who wants to improve his methods.

“There is something that people do not realize that artificial intelligence can determine,” said Mao. For example, from the crowd of collected data, AI will be able to identify the exact methods to ensure ideal production.

New technologies are becoming essential for agricultural producers to be well aware of the importance of automation and to remain competitive. “We must optimize agricultural land, which is in greater demand than ever before,” said two experts at Update.

The same thing applies with livestock production, especially with disease control. For example, microphones placed in a chicken coop collect bird sounds which are then analyzed, making it possible to detect if the chickens are very hot, cold, or have any inconsistencies. “It allows for growth analysis and volume forecasting. For example, we are working on a project with a fish producer who wants to know in advance how much meat he will produce,” said Andre. Impossible or very difficult. Not to mention the cost associated with such an operation. However, labor shortages are forcing certain producers who have no choice but to find alternatives to “traditional” employees.

Artificial intelligence can also be integrated into food processing. In the factory, Computer Vision will be useful for volume control or sorting work, for example. The same goes for distribution, when traceability and “just in time” are increasingly necessary. The prediction that AI brings also helps to avoid or reduce food waste, which is another important concern nowadays.

Helping the region with AI

The update thus seeks to develop agriculture and livestock clients. “This is an important place in the region,” Mao said.

It is always ideal to work with a group of producers to make AI related investments profitable. “But we also offer concept sessions. If the company thinks it needs it, we can analyze the opportunities to improve the processes with the help of artificial intelligence in a day or two. There may be measures or administration that we can help. And the government offers training programs at this level to take the first step, ”Andre added.

And even if the technology can be expensive to buy, when you look at all the benefits it brings, it becomes an essential option. In the agricultural sector, in particular, which is constantly evolving, real-time analysis is increasingly essential for making the best decisions.

The update is part of a five-member team based in Victoriaville (and five others outside the country) that aims to make artificial intelligence accessible to producers or entrepreneurs in Center-du-Quebec. It aims to support innovative companies, as well as agriculturists, who want to take further steps to address growth and productivity challenges.

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