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US increases budget for AI in agriculture to produce more with fewer resources

2024.05.18 03:31:11 Carson Seo

[AI robot calculating the amount of fertilizers. Photo Credit to Unsplash]

On March 11, 2024, President Biden unveiled his fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget request, which includes substantial funding toward advancing artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives in agriculture.

The budget, totaling $3.8 billion for agricultural research, education, and outreach, reflects a concerted effort to implement directives outlined in an expansive executive order regulating AI and prioritize AI-related projects across federal agencies.

A notable component of the budget is a $365 million increase designated for agricultural research, extension, and education grants.

These funds are earmarked for minority-serving land grant universities and tribal colleges, specifically targeting the responsible application of AI in agricultural practices.

The substantial allocation for AI in agriculture reflects the urgent need for more output while minimizing resource utilization, including labor.

Emily Buckman, director of government affairs at the American Farm Bureau Federation, emphasized, “The average age of a farmer now is 60 and labor is the number one concern.”

Beyond labor challenges, the agriculture industry faces mounting pressure due to population growth and climate change-induced disruptions.

Buckman highlighted projections indicating a 70% increase in food demand by 2050, necessitating significant agricultural innovation.

Climate change poses another significant obstacle, which affect crop yields and exacerbate unpredictability in growing conditions.

The adoption of AI technologies presents a promising avenue for mitigating these challenges, with precision agriculture emerging as a pivotal strategy.

Artificial intelligence in agriculture is not entirely new; nascent iterations, such as auto-sterring guidance systems for growing crops like corn, have been in use for two decades.

However, AI uptake in the past few years has been swift.

Reports indicate that as of late 2021, approximately 87% of U.S. agricultural businesses incorporated AI into their operations.

The federal government is currently pushing the agriculture industry towards tech by providing financial incentives to speed up the development and deployment of AI across the country.

If the push to adopt AI across the nearly two-million American farms succeeds, the implications for the rest of the world could be substantial because new technology on a mass scale can help farmers feed the world.

On the other hand, using AI to reduce the quantity of resources used, while also improving crop yields, is referred to as precision agriculture, which involves collecting, analyzing, and taking actions based on data.

The US government supports the adoption, research, and development, as well as education and training in precision agriculture, through financial assistance and loan programs.

These programs include payments for implementing practices that provide conservation benefits.

Buckman says, “Precision agriculture helps reduce water waste, be more efficient and do more with less and US agriculture would’ve needed 100 million more acres 30 years ago to match today’s production level improved mainly by the precision agriculture strategy.”

Agriculture experts are optimistic that AI tools, when used by farmers on a large scale, will help the industry fend off evolving threats from climate change, the precarious labor market, and other challenges.

Carson Seo / Grade 10
Basis Independent Mclean