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Will artificial intelligence take over decision making in farming?

December 2023

Precision agriculture (PA) is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in potatoes and other crops. Below a reality check on the relevancy of PA for future agriculture. It will become more data-driven as ever.

This column on precision agriculture topics in Potato World is now 4 years old. Still relevant? Regenerative farming and circular farming as terms for where agriculture should develop into, seem to be a more popular today. Time for a reality check. I recently tried an online AI-text generator to learn internet’s opinion on precision farming. I asked “How will future agriculture look like ?”. The tool asks for some additional keywords to find answers on the internet. Here is the answer to the questions: “Precision farming techniques allow us to use resources more efficiently than ever before, while regenerative and smart farming practices help us work in harmony with nature. And by embracing circular and ICM systems and incorporating social science, we can create truly inclusive agricultural communities that benefit everyone involved.”I was quite happy with the result. Internet looks positive on the future agriculture, and still sees a role for precision agriculture. Interesting to see how a text generator can combine so many terms for types of agriculture in just 2 sentences. Six types are mentioned in the sentences. On internet, even more terms can be found, just a few: organic, nature-inclusive, eco-intensive, ICM and agroecological farming. Terms change faster than agriculture, you could conclude. A positive thing is that all these types of farming aim at combining technology and knowledge to produce in a more sustainable way. And then we are back to the term sustainable agriculture first mentioned by Wes Jackson in 1980, with the triple bottom line People Planet Profit goals. Internet looks also positive on precision agriculture technologies relevant for any type of agriculture we want to develop. So, no reason to stop this column from that perspective.

How much AI will support farmer’s decisions in the future?

Digitalization and data-driven farming was not yet mentioned in the list of types of agriculture, but could have been mentioned too. Digitalization is a pillar under all aforementioned types of agriculture. Precision agriculture is by definition data-driven. Digitalization is not only relevant for producing more economically (Profit), it is also relevant for showing compliance to People and Planet objectives. We see that value chains develop regenerative schemes, and that farmers can get a bonus if they comply to these schemes. We in the Netherlands already have certification schemes such as “On the way to Planet Proof” up and running. And there are more to come. EU countries have developed eco-schemes in the frame of CAP subsidies. Precision farming applications will become part of the Dutch eco-scheme in 2024. Specific precision crop protection and fertilizer use applications are defined as eco-activities. Key here is the farmer has or will get an as-applied map of the precision application on his or her fields and in the crops. They have to keep these digital maps stored safely on a server and being able to show it to an authority or auditor on request. For this, the farm has to have a mature Farm Data Space.
And here I come to a point to end this column from my side. Starting 2024, I will start working for Brancheorganisatie Akkerbouw, the Dutch arable and field vegetables crops value chain partners association, as coordinator Data and Precision Farming. I leave WUR after more than 30 years doing research on sustainable crop protection methods and precision farming. My focus shifts now to organizing and developing mature Farm Data Spaces.

Dr. Ir. Corné Kempenaar
Wageningen University & Research, and Aeres University of Applied Sciences


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