How does artificial intelligence help farmers?

Protecting species with artificial intelligence

Up to a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction worldwide. Whether in the seas and oceans, rivers and lakes or on land: Biodiversity - i.e. the diversity of life - is declining everywhere. Experts estimate that species extinction is already on average at least ten to a hundred times faster than is normal in evolution. So it is high time to act: the loss of the diversity of flora and fauna is just as threatening to our existence as climate change.

In order to protect both the climate and biodiversity, we need research and innovations. Above all, digital technologies and artificial intelligence offer enormous potential. The following therefore applies to the Federal Ministry of Research: Digitization and sustainable development must be consistently merged. The BMBF provides for this with the action plan "Of course, digitally, sustainably“The switches.

Digitalization offers many opportunities, especially for the agricultural systems of the future. Whether data on the weather and climate, soil conditions and cultivation conditions, environmental influences or biodiversity in the field: If this data is digitally recorded and evaluated, it can help to develop tailor-made solutions for new, sustainable agricultural systems. Above all, the potential of AI in agriculture is huge.

AI can help to reconcile species protection and land use

AI is a key to the major challenges in agriculture: In the future, farmers will have to provide more and more people with food without harming nature. If we enlarge our fields, we increasingly take away their habitat from animals and other plants. If we only rely on monocultures, the diversity of life in the field suffers. If we increase the use of pesticides, we sometimes harm many living things. AI is a key technology for mastering such challenges: It can help to better reconcile species protection and land use.

How this works is researched by scientists in projects funded by the Federal Ministry of Research - including within the framework of the National Research Strategy Bioeconomy. More than 40 million euros are available for research into sustainable “agricultural systems of the future”. The goal is new, systemic solutions for future agricultural production beyond conventional approaches.

Rethinking agricultural production

A scientist who wants to bring agriculture into the future is Enno Bahrs. The director of the “Institute for Agricultural Operations” at the University of Hohenheim heads the joint project “Agriculture 4.0: Without chemical-synthetic plant protection” (NOcsPS). The aim of the project is to initiate a rethink in agricultural production: away from chemical pesticides but with the use of mineral fertilizers. The researchers want to research a new arable farming strategy and develop it further in the interests of consumers.

"We rely on the latest automated and digitally networked technologies," explains Bahrs. One example of this are intelligent chopping systems. While conventional systems only hoe undifferentiated weeds between the rows of cultivated plants, their intelligent successors have a decisive advantage: "With lightning-fast precision strokes, you can also remove weeds directly in the row of cultivated plants," explains Bahrs. "Those who use this technology therefore need fewer chemical pesticides and fewer workers," says the expert.

AI differentiates between “good” and “bad” accompanying flora

In the future, thanks to AI, this technology can also be further developed in terms of nature conservation. Therefore, research groups are also testing robots that can use AI to differentiate between “good” and “bad” accompanying flora and fauna. Useful accompanying flora is then retained if necessary and offers a better habitat for insects and co. "Thanks to digitalization and AI, agriculture and nature conservation can have fewer contradictions," says Bahrs. He sees the opportunities offered by the technology for all types of agriculture, regardless of whether they operate conventionally or ecologically. “Regardless of this, an arable farming system like NOcsPS can inspire organic farming with regard to alternative fertilization strategies and changed crop rotations. In conventional farming, NOcsPS can help reduce the use of chemical pesticides, ”says the scientist.