Agriculture giant Deere & Co. plans to roll out a system next summer that combines machine vision and machine learning to improve the identification of individual plants and weeds. Deere’s Jahmy Hindman said neural network models could be trained to only spray weeds in crop fields, killing everything except genetically…
The AI effort is one of many technology projects associated with precision agricultural taking farming into the 21st century and changing the nature of work in rural America.
The goal: Farm machines moving at up to 20 miles per hour make decisions on spraying of herbicides at the level of individual plants and weeds in seconds, reducing the need for widespread use of chemicals.
Five years after acquiring the technology, Deere’s method of using machine vision and machine learning to identify individual plants will be tested on farms in summer 2021.
Deere and 5G
Rural connectivity is tied to these technology efforts that Deere is focused on for its operations and the rural communities in which its farmers work and live. While the 5G licenses the company recently acquired are for its manufacturing operations — allowing it to operate smart factories — Hindman said there are tailwinds to bringing more broadband and 5G to rural America.
“The divide between urban and rural connectivity is an important one for us, and farmers, and also important in rural communities which they happen to work in for reasons far outside the scope of agriculture,” he said.
For farmers, more investment is needed to support data flows between Deere’s own cloud computing center and farms, for reasons including the ability to remotely monitor heavy machinery on farms for preventive maintenance needs (e.g. a water pump being repaired remotely rather than someone having to travel out into the field), as well as for remote operation of equipment in the future. The effort is underway through partnerships with government and private enterprises, the Deere CTO said.
Hindman said with 5G bandwidth and the latency reduction it offers, automatically controlling machines on the farm from a remote location become a possibility.
“There’s a whole host of benefits that come to society when that happens. … We’re confident the winds are at our back on that,” he said of federal government support for 5G rollouts in rural parts of the country.
Hindman said hiring at the company has changed, as well as training of current employees, in line with newer efforts like the plant recognition AI and other technology.
Machine learning skill sets are in high demand, and in general, Hindman said in recent years Deere’s hiring has been “significantly more indexed to software skills,” while there has been concurrent upskilling of existing employees to meet the needs of the latest technology.