By Abby Haas, Account Coordinator, RPG Raleigh

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are making our world more connected and efficient. Technology’s ability to collect and learn from data, anticipate needs, and perform tasks with greater accuracy is resulting in the growing presence of AI and IoT in numerous industries, including the often overlooked agricultural sector.

Studies predict that the world population will reach 9.8 billion people by 2050. In order to feed the growing population, the agriculture industry will have to increase food production by 70%. However, population density, land scarcity, climate change, and other challenges are making it hard for farmers to increase their crop yields. AI and IoT are providing answers to these problems and the agriculture industry is evolving to become a technology leader. Incorporating the best technologies into farming helps farmers meet their production goals and minimize monetary and environmental costs. Sensors and computer vision are at the forefront of these agricultural technology advancements.

Sensor technology is used in agriculture to identify equipment breakdowns, monitor water usage and gather data about field nutrients. AI-enabled sensors have the capacity to reduce water consumption by 30%, which can lead to more sustainable land use. Sensors also enable machines to communicate with one another, allowing farmers to maximize production and reduce duplicate work in the fields.

5G will play a large part in implementing sensor technology. Many farmers already use sensors equipped with 4G, but upgrading to 5G could allow farmers to track even more data to support a higher crop yield. This technology is vital in improving sensor technology for agriculture, yet most 5G carriers are focusing services on metropolitan areas, meaning it could take years to reach rural farms.

Historically, farming has been a visual and tactile practice for farmers. Computer vision is evolving to solve agricultural needs by allowing farmers to “feel” and “see” their crops and fields remotely. AI-enabled drones allow farmers to see and monitor crop health in real-time and make adjustments to pesticide and water use through smartphones and tablets.

As a North Carolina native and graduate of NC State University, I am aware of the need for agriculture-focused technology to meet food production demands and continue a vital industry in NC. North Carolina agriculture contributes $91 billion in economic activity yearly and makes up 17% of the North Carolina workforce. According to the NC Plant Sciences Initiative at NC State, there are over 80 agtech companies in North Carolina contributing to advancing agricultural technology. Agriculture is essential to the livelihood of North Carolina residents, businesses and economy.

Growing technological advancements in agriculture will require skillsets from many different industries. Jennifer Howard, a communications specialist with NC State’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, described how NC State is bringing together different departments, students, and skills to create technology to “make the farmer’s job as profitable and productive as possible.” Howard explained the holistic nature of the program, stating that “NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences bridges many departments including agronomy, plant sciences, biological and agricultural engineering to provide interdisciplinary solutions to these challenges.”

“AI and IoT are often seen as just these big machines, but there is so much going on behind the scenes,” she said.  “It requires both the knowledge to create the technology, and the resources and skills to bring this technology to the farmers and the public.”

As public relations professionals, we have the ability to shape conversations that matter about the necessity and impact of AI and IoT in agriculture—and on society overall.

About the Author

Abby Haas

Abby Haas is as an Account Coordinator based out of RPG’s Raleigh office. She is a North Carolina native and graduated from North Carolina State University, where she majored in public relations and nonprofit studies.