Using AI in agriculture - China has launched her first project

Publish time:11/17/2017 12:00:00 AM      Source: CCM
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As China is speeding up efforts in AI innovation and development, the first artificial intelligence project has been launched in the country, assisting farmers in planting decisions and crop protection. The middle kingdom wants to become a leader in this technology, but especially AI in agriculture still holds huge challenges.


In October 2017, China has launched the first artificial intelligence (AI) project in the field of agriculture and farming, called Brain of Agriculture. The project starts with a system of a Precise Agricultural Platform, able to execute 26 different functions in total. The project was officially launched in Wuhan City, Hubei Province in China.

The new system, using big data management technologies, cloud, computing, and super artificial intelligence, is aiming to provide supporting data for effective decision making of farmers. Factors that play an important role in the calculation of Brain of Agriculture are soil and climate conditions, as well as pest and diseases occurrences, which are monitored through sensors on the field and from information, crawled from the internet.

The benefits for farmers using the new agriculture AI are found in best decision supporting of seeding, fertilisation of crops, pesticide usage, harvesting, stockpile management, and the sales process in general. After all, clients and buyers of agricultural products can also monitor the growth and yield of their purchased crops to be always informed about the status.

China is putting a lot of effort into the development of AI, especially in the fields of manufacturing and agriculture, in order to increase the efficiency of production and lower the costs to keep up with the development of modern agriculture in countries like the USA.

Even China is developing in an impressive speed in terms of innovation and technology, a research from 2013 shows that about 86% of all farms in China have just been small pieces of acres, mostly be worked on by elderly farmers by hand. The government is tackling this problem by pushing private industries into the agriculture sector to invest and develop corporate farms. AI will definitely play an important role to modernize this system of agriculture and support sufficient supply for the largest population in the world.

The Brain of Agriculture project is going to be enhanced in the next step with the installation of sensors on all the agricultural equipment in cooperation of more agricultural enterprises. In this context, data of the agricultural resource elements can be shared, which maximises the utilisation efficiency of all those. The project will further keep upgrading by establishing more data models for big data analysis, and better facilitate China’s agricultural modernisation.

Overview of AI used in Agriculture

Artificial intelligence used in agriculture is showing an impressive path by becoming more powerful in enable farmers to harvest better crops and be able to produce more food out of the same acre.

For example, researchers have recently developed an AI system that is capable of identifying diseases and pest damage in crops, by comparing the plants with an internal databank of thousands of pictures of plants with diseases. The researchers claim that their system, that can be downloaded as an app, has a 98% accuracy rate in disease recognizing.

Other farmers are already using self-driving tractors that can plant seeds and spray fertilisers over the acre without the need of a human driving it, or use tools that collect data which can be used to assess crop health and monitor pest and disease conditions during the season

All in all, farm data is becoming both more rich and robust. The availability of this data is paving the way to develop and deploy AI in agriculture.

However, according to Forbes, many of the major agricultural input companies, equipment manufacturers, and service providers have not yet found their presence in the fields of AI for agrotechnology.

One of the biggest challenges for AI systems in agriculture is, that it takes a long time to acquire the vast amount of data that is needed to build proper systems. Valuable data in agricultural processes is mostly only available once a year during the growing and harvesting season. Hence, it often takes many years until some sufficient pool of data is established to be useful in AI. Many startups are building decision automation tools while there still exist large gaps in data collection, preparation, and benchmarking capabilities.

Development of AI in China

The State Council of China has issued a guideline on developing artificial intelligence, setting a goal of becoming a global innovation centre in this field by 2030. This shows the ambitions the country is putting into AI and how it wants to lead the field. According to the issue, the total output value of artificial intelligence industries should surpass USD147.80 billion by that time.

However, since developing AI is a complicated time and money consuming process, an open and coordinated AI innovation system is in the centre of attention to develop not only the technology but also products and market for AI.

The major goals of artificial intelligence development in China are named to promote the country’s technology, economy, social welfare, maintain national security, and contribute to the world. In order to achieve this, the focus is set on big data intelligence, multimedia aware computing, human-machine hybrid intelligence, swarm intelligence and automated decision-making. Advanced theories which can potentially transform AI should also be looked at, including advanced machine learning, brain-like computing and quantum intelligent computing.

After all, the AI economy is going to be promoted. New industries using AI technology should be developed, such as smart robot, smart vehicle, virtual reality, augmented reality and smart terminal. Traditional industries should be integrated with AI to develop smart manufacturing, agriculture, finance, logistics and business.

According to some recent report, AI I likely to increase China’s economic growth rate by about 1.6 % points by the year of 2035. The industries, that are benefitting the most from AI and get the most attention in researches are manufacturing, agriculture and retail.

The largest area of opportunity for AI in China’s growth is manufacturing, though. The instrumentation of manufacturing in the middle kingdom has literally just begun. Innovation in the technology improvement is reaching from the Internet of Things, taking data and telemetry off machines and manufacturing lines for greater productivity. According to industry insiders, AI will have the largest impact on labour-intensive sectors to become more productive over time by allowing workers to focus on more critical tasks, while AI handles the more repetitive ones.

Artificial intelligence has become the new focus of international competition. Many countries are eager and investing large amounts of money to grasp the next stage of AI development to create a new competitive advantage, open the development of new industries and improve the protection of national security.

Agricultural drones help already farmers scan fields, monitor crops and seeding or analyze plant health. Farm activities can become much more effective when drone data, IoT and computer vision technologies join forces to optimize strategies. 

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