At the Cutting Edge | How Artificial Intelligence will Change our Primary Sector Forever
Farmers already wrestle with debt due to increasing interest rates and recession. A strong case must be made before they risk investing in new technology.
Farming is changing. Machine intelligence and learning are driving global changes in the sector. Aotearoa New Zealand can capitalise on these changes using sandboxes to develop and implement revolutionary tools, create farming trusts, and seek investment from venture capitalists.
Historically we have been an agricultural innovator, recognised as a leader in the precision farming movements of the late 20th century, producing more from less. But America, Britain, Holland, Israel, and India are pioneering the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in agriculture, prompting a sea-change in the sector. If we are to stay on the cutting edge, we must play a significant part in this revolution.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 80% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s exports, providing the country income and helping feed the world. With the world’s population projected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years, there is an increasing focus on food production. Current practices cannot guarantee food security, but widespread innovation and adoption of AI will. Given our history and expertise in agriculture, New Zealand needs to leverage this opportunity.
Unfortunately, several factors slow the adoption of AI in agriculture in our country, including access to fast internet, information on products, and the technology itself. Then there is cost. Farmers already wrestle with debt due to increasing interest rates and recession. A strong case must be made before they risk investing in new technology. Security and privacy are also critical barriers to adoption. Malicious hacking poses risks for farmers not only with ransom demands and data leakage but also through rogue robots or drones. Further, concerns about liability and employment slow AI uptake.
Meanwhile, the global demand for food security is coupled with a heightened sense of urgency over land and water care and biodiversity loss. Legislation has created policy frameworks to respond well to these challenges, but compliance in agriculture is already complex and onerous and will become more so. AI can help by monitoring water flows and the use of chemicals and pesticides and automating compliance. It will lift physical burdens from farmers’ shoulders and help determine the best path for responsible farming.
Adopting more AI will strengthen agriculture. It will help with planning, planting, harvesting, irrigating, and managing soils. It will assist with monitoring pasture and livestock health, moving livestock, and overseeing the supply chain. It will create efficiencies, delivering a return on investment and higher profit. It will also assist New Zealand in meeting its obligations as a signatory to international agreements and accords.
At The Cutting Edge
How Artificial Intelligence will Change our Primary Sector ForeverRead the Paper
This report makes six recommendations for addressing the barriers and taking hold of the opportunity AI presents to our agricultural sector.
There is a need to:
- Create demand: Show the advantages that AI brings to the management, production, and distribution of farmed goods to farmers, business leaders and senior executives working in agriculture, public servants, and MPs. Underscore the economic, environmental, and social gains AI makes possible.
- Promote Cooperative and Farming trusts: Raise capital for innovation and gain access to AI agritech—and, significantly, data—through partnerships. Allow for clusters of stakeholders with small landholdings to work together for mutual benefit.
- Seek investment: Encourage and assist agritech start-ups and farming businesses to press into seed funding from venture capitalists such as Finistere Ventures, etc., to finesse research, development, and innovation and help them build sustainable and profitable entities.
- Ensure the use of “Sandboxes”: To vet emergent AI technology: create “sandboxes”—open-science arenas that operate as safe testbeds and cyber-physical spaces. In these spaces, aspects of farming can be brought into relation with AI before they are released commercially.
- Implement a Data Code of Conduct and Guarantee Data Portability: The uptake of a data code of conduct which focuses on trust and revolves around data acquisition, access, and quality. To provide a fair governance framework for the collection, curation, storage, linkage, use, and release of data, not simply relating to personal attributes (ethnicity, gender, age, address, etc.) but to data used in farming. And to offer a model for standardisation which would treat data as infrastructure, ensuring interoperability, portability, and future scalability.
- Build and Maintain Stable International Partnerships: Find overseas partners and secure supply chains that will endure despite pandemics, international conflict, and geopolitical tension.By embracing AI, future farms can be innovative, productive, competitive, and cost-efficient. We can regain our position as world leaders at the cutting edge of primary industry innovation.