Robot reapers and AI: Just another day on the farm

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Pressures on agriculture have forced a technological revolution that are driving a new age of farming.

The agriculture industry has hit a turning point. Faced with a massive labor crunch and environmental instability, aggressive technology deployments are no longer an option for outliers in the sector, but a necessary and critical element in the success of the farm.

Enabling the transformation are a host of new developers, but also legacy companies with deep roots in agriculture. Smart technology from companies like John Deere, for example, is helping farmers to produce more with less and create more successful crops, all while having a smaller impact on the land and environment. In contrast to prevailing wisdom that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, John Deere is employing AI and machine learning in its equipment to identify and enable needed actions at a scope and speed beyond human capacity, automating farming actions through smart robotics to enable consistent and precise actions at large scale, and providing precise, geospatial intelligence generated with machine technology and coupled with cloud-stored data to enable sustainable farming.

In other words, it’s like farming with technologies that might be more commonly associated with NASA than a tractor company. I caught up with Dr. Cristian Dima, Lead of Advanced Algorithms, John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group, to discuss the changes underway in the farming sector and what we can expect going forward.

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Big-money investors gear up for a trillion-dollar bet on farmland

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Ray Williams bought this land just north of the small town of Dumont, in Butler County, Iowa.

For a glimpse of what could happen to a trillion dollars worth of American farmland, meet Ray Williams.

He’s a lawyer-turned-farmer, growing organic grain and feeding young cows on 3,000 acres in northeastern Oregon. Last year, he and his brother Tom decided that they were getting too old for the long hours and hard work.

“We told our clients, you don’t want to rely on senior citizens for your high quality organic products. Trust me on this!” says Williams, age 68.

Their farm sold for $23 million. The buyer was a company registered in Delaware with a mailing address in Manhattan. The people behind that company wish to remain anonymous.

This left Williams with a pile of money to invest, and he parked almost $3 million of it in farmland halfway across the country. He bought 293 acres in Butler County, Iowa, from a farmer named Rich Showalter, and another 160 acres in O’Brien County from the estate of a woman who was born in Iowa but died in Indiana at the age of 100.

The end result: Control over this land has passed to people with little personal connection to it, who live a thousand miles away. The new owners will decide what happens to that land, whether to plow or drain it, or even to stop farming it entirely. Their decisions will have profound effects on rural communities, wildlife and even the global climate.

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Pork and beef prices surge as meat plants shutter due to coronavirus

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Hundreds of meat plant workers across the country have fallen ill with the coronavirus, leading to a slowdown in output and surge in prices.

By the numbers, per Bloomberg: The price of wholesale pork rose by 7.2% to 55.86 cents a pound Thursday — the largest increase in more than two years. Choice-grade beef prices rose to a one-month high of $2.36 a pound, climbing for six straight days through Thursday.

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In two decades, your future meals will be flavored with trendy contradictions

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As Sunday morning, January 1, 2040, dawns, Coloradans will wake up to a breakfast of lab-cultured sausage, mung bean–based eggs, and tiger-nut-flour banana bread—all prepared by robots who talk like Alexa’s much smarter granddaughter. There is no kale in sight, and almond milk was banned long ago for being an environmental threat.

The first month of the year is still filled with new diets, new calendars, new dire warnings, and the traditional predictions from culinary prognosticators.

I’ve been the guy predicting the next big food thing in newspapers and magazines since the early 1980s. See how official I just sounded?

Admittedly, I’m a food data geek who soaks up stats from the market research firm NPD Group, Whole Foods, food industry insight source Technomic, Forbes, the National Restaurant Association, and similar sources. Tell me what you’ll eat, and I’ll tell you who you’ll be.

Looking forward 20 years in nutrition, there are dining, grocery shopping, and farming trends that I think will be going strong.

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More tigers now live in cages than in the wild.

8B6C9B77-CB64-4F79-8BFE-0EBD20D75BC2They’ve been farmed,butchered, sold — commodified.

We joined this man on his obsessive quest to expose the traffickers.

THA BAK, Laos — He was up there somewhere, at the top of the hill, the man Karl Ammann had come to see. It would soon be night. The forest was all shadows and sounds. Ammann had driven across the country to reach this remote river village, and now he was finally here, looking to the top of the hill, ready to confront the person he believed had murdered more tigers than anyone in Laos. In the distance, he could hear them: dozens of tigers roaring.

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How IoT is being used for Australian agriculture in 2019

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CSIRO’s Vertebrate Pest Detect-and-Deter (VPDaD) device

The development of IoT for agriculture is still in its early stages, but it looks promising as more farmers are putting these technologies to work.

Australian agriculture has historically been defined by long droughts and irregular rainfall. For farmers, these harsh conditions leave small margins for error, meaning that gruelling work on the paddock does not necessarily translate to healthy stock or strong crop harvests.

One way that farmers have adapted to these conditions is the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors. But in comparison to other sectors, farmers have been slow to adopt these technologies due to concerns surrounding the cost of implementation and ongoing service—particularly when there is no immediate value received for certain IoT technologies, which can sometimes take several years of accumulating data before it shows its value.

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Milk without the Cow. Eggs without the Chicken

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Yeast-derived “animal products” may soon be part of an environmentally balanced diet.

In 2008, the biotech industry had fallen on tough times: capital was drying up and businesses were struggling to survive. That’s when Ryan Bethencourt saw an opportunity. A biologist with an entrepreneurial streak, he and a couple of friends started buying equipment from bankrupt companies and setting up their own small labs. By 2013, he had co-founded Counter Culture Labs, a “biohacker” space in Oakland, California. There, DIY-biology enthusiasts are now working on, among other projects, making real cheese in a way that bypasses the cow.

Bethencourt is part of a growing group of scientists, entrepreneurs, and lab tinkerers who are forging a bold new food future—one without animals. But they’re not asking everyone to give up meat and dairy. Thanks to advances in synthetic biology, they’re developing ways to produce actual animal products—meat, milk, egg whites, collagen—in the lab. And in doing so, they are shrinking the carbon footprint and slashing the land and water requirements of these goods with the goal of meeting the world’s growing protein needs more sustainably.

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Inside Silicon Valley’s newest, most autonomous farm yet

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Iron Ox’s robots are currently planting, growing, and harvesting lettuce in a California warehouse.

Inside Silicon Valley’s newest, most autonomous farm yet

Inside a former commercial warehouse in San Carlos, California, a robotic arm is carefully transplanting tiny sorrel plants from one large tray to another. In another corner of the room, a larger robot sits ready to carry other trays–filled with romaine lettuce, bok choy, cilantro, and more than two dozen other types of greens–over to the robotic arm. At the moment, there are no people in the room: This is the headquarters of Iron Ox, which bills itself as the world’s first fully autonomous farm.

“We designed the entire process, from the beginning, around robotics,” says Iron Ox co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander, who previously worked at X, Alphabet’s so-called moonshot factory, and the robotics lab Willow Garage. “It required us pretty much going back to the drawing board to see what we could do if robots were in the loop.”

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This start-up created the first farm in America run entirely by robo

Start-up Iron Ox created a fully autonomous farm in San Carlos, California. The hydroponic indoor farm relies on two robots to plant, care for and harvest produce.

One of the robots is 1,000 pounds and about the size of a car. It picks up the trays of plants and transports them around the greenhouse. A second machine, a robotic arm, is responsible for all the fine manipulation tasks, like seeding and transplanting.

The robots at Iron Ox use machine learning and AI to detect pests and diseases. They can remove infected plants before the problem spreads.

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World’s first floating dairy farm could be wave of the future

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Floating farm project leader Mink van Wingerden beside the floating dairy farm plaform being built at Merwehaven in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

“It’s a logical step to produce fresh food on the water.”

You’ve heard of offshore drilling platforms and offshore wind farms. Now a Dutch company is developing what’s being called the world’s first offshore dairy farm. Plans call for the high-tech, multilevel facility to open this fall in Rotterdam, a port city about 50 miles southwest of Amsterdam.

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It’s the year 2038–here’s how we’ll eat 20 years in the future

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A science-fiction look at the next two decades of food developments, from robot farmers to 3D-printed meals to government monitoring of your daily calorie intake.

It’s the year 2038. The word “flavor” has fallen into disuse. Sugar is the new cigarettes, and we have managed to replace salt with healthy plants.
 We live in a society in which we eat fruit grown using genetics. We drink synthetic wine, scramble eggs that do not come from chickens, grill meat that was not taken from animals, and roast fish that never saw the sea.

Was this what we had in mind when we started seeking transparency, traceability, and sustainability of our food system many years ago in the early aughts? About a decade ago, we lived through an agricultural bottleneck caused by warm temperatures that caused plagues and diseases, which severely compromised the food sources we were cultivating and consuming. By the end, three quarters of the world’s food was derived from just 12 plant and five animal species. We learned from this mistake and started to embrace true biodiversity, grew meat in labs, and put robotics into farms. But the technological advances that have made clean, sustainable food possible have also created some horrifying scenarios.

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Dropcopter’s drones boost crop pollination by up to 60% in bad bee years

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The Dropcopter drone is designed to pollen-bomb rows of crops following a pre-programmed route

A large percentage of the world’s food production relies on bee pollination, but what do we do when the bees can’t be relied on? US startup Dropcopter has just demonstrated that it can deliver a 25 to 60 percent boost in pollination rates using autonomous drones to pick up where the bees left off.

Much has been made of the collapse of bee populations worldwide, what the causes might be and what we might be able to do about it. It’s no small issue, given how much of the global food supply hangs in the balance.

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