Why We Love Data: Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture

[fa icon="calendar"] November 2, 2017 10:16:55 AM EDT / by Jonathan Feist

by Jonathan Feist, Business Development Manager at Motorleaf

Though not intending to “replace farmers,” Motorleaf is poised to disrupt the agricultural and agtech industries by learning about environments through raw sensor data, and delivering actionable insights to greenhouse operators. 

How does artificial intelligence and machine learning in agriculture work, exactly?

Ai can be simplified as the creation of software that can automate intelligently what are normally manual tasks. “It’s about addressing losses and receiving gains,” says Motorleaf’s AI Director Scott Dickson Dagondon, “to automate what are normally human tasks, and more importantly improve on their results.”

For example, in the case of self-driving cars, software is written to drive a car through traffic without human intervention.  This software is designed to instruct machines to brake or turn when an obstacle presents itself, and this without an actual driver. “But part of that system’s goal is to create a reality in which the self-driving car actually performs better than a human driver,” says Dagondon, “and with agriculture, we’re looking for the same thing: not just to come up with something to automate human tasks, but rather to improve upon them.”

It is in this spirit that Motorleaf has been using machine learning and artificial intelligence for vegetable yield predictions improvements and optimization. 


“We have a solid understanding of the inputs that go into yield prediction today, for different crops, and we’ve designed features that can adapt to different changes in environment,” says Dagondon. “We are at the point now where we have an algorithm that can predict yields weeks in advance in greenhouses over 60 acres in size, and we’re scaling up to more and more locations.”

Looking Ahead

 “Since there are no standards in agriculture to compare to, it’s hard to tell when our algorithms are precise enough,” says Dagondon.  For example, a yield predictive algorithm that works in one specific greenhouse does not necessarily translate to another data set and environment, which makes algorithm training and learning processes more difficult.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, thinks Dagondon, as developing an algorithm also builds human expertise.  "We’re learning how to farm while looking at numbers, and we begin to understand what the plants need through their data," he says. There are a number of challenges that present themselves when designing machine learning algorithms for greenhouses: geographical locations, changing weather patterns, and varied farming equipment all contribute to the difficulty of standardization.  By nature, plants are inherently complex, and agricultural environments are unpredictable—ever relied on weather predictions for your next camping trip?

This is all fairly novel technology, especially in the AG space.  “A lot of people use AI as a buzzword, or maybe are sceptical,” jokes Dagondon, “they’re worried that it will replace farmers and eradicate labour.”  This clearly isn’t the case: no company is directly building machines specifically to eliminDSC_0082.jpgate farmers. “There are huge costs involved from transitioning from conveyors and tractors to indoor farms and robots, and there isn’t an unlimited capital availability to make that switch,” says Dagondon.   

Still, Dagondon is confident in a solid foundation to build upon.  One of the challenges of machine learning is determining when a result is satisfactory, and Motorleaf is excited to see how close we can get to perfect yield predictions.

Motorleaf is committed to helping greenhouse operators match their supply with demand dynamics to help them optimize their marketing dollars, plan their labour needs, and increase bottom line profit margins. At its core, these are the data-driven, actionable insights that the Motorleaf software provides.  

Get in touch if you'd like to know how Motorleaf's data scientists can help your operation receive in-depth, data-driven insights about the way your crops are growing. CONTACT US

Sleep Well, Grow Well. 

The Motorleaf Team

Jonathan Feist

Written by Jonathan Feist

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