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February 7, 2020

Will AI Replace People on the Farm?

Top Story  |   |  By: Aidan Connolly

The promise of artificial intelligence is every bit as transformational as any other technology we have had in the history of farming. AI (not artificial insemination in this case) has the ability to do everything humans can do and more. It can combine and crunch camera intel, weather data, body temperatures, milk production, soil conditions and feed quality to inform a producer how to manage their livestock to maximize efficiency.  

With labor quality and quantity an increasing challenge on dairy farms, the ability for AI to work 24/7, 365 days of the year without the need
for sleep, wage or labor regulations, mistakes or misinterpretations is huge. 

Will AI replace people on the farm? Based on industries, such as healthcare, that have already embraced AI, the technology doesn’t eliminate the need for people, but the people end up increasing their performance and doing fewer repetitive jobs so the overall system becomes more productive. 

At Cainthus, where I work, we are using AI on farms to launch a commercial feedbunk management system based on camera vision in the barn. AI is used to interpret the information from identification and monitoring technology, such as Antelliq, Smartbow, Moomonitor, Moocall and Nedap. Sensors include smart ear tags, cow “bells,” tail tags, leg “Fitbits,” rumen data loggers and cameras. 

Today fewer than 5% of the cows in the U.S. are being milked robotically but the uptake has been faster in Europe. Lely, Delaval, GEA and Boumatic lead the way but more companies are coming. AI is fundamental to making robots milk effectively.

The underpinnings of AI is called machine learning. As the words suggest, a machine learns to interpret data, initially based on how we teach it. Over time, it engages in generating self-learning algorithms. 

So what does this mean for the producer? Be first. Don’t assume you can be a fast follower; once the technology starts to gallop ahead, it will be difficult to catch up. 

Give every start-up you meet a fair chance to make their pitch. Don’t be put off by their lack of knowledge about farming. 

Learn to have a set of questions to ask about any innovation that cut to the chase. Who is using it today? Can I call them? What are the true costs, upfront and continuous? What are the benefits? Who else might be willing to help me pay for installing this tech?  

AI is coming, and its advent is as predictable as the arrival of Christmas and a new year. Learn as much as
you can about this transformational technology in 2020.