AI in Agriculture: How Tech is Transforming Farming Amid Climate Change



by FARUK IMAMOVIC

AI in Agriculture: How Tech is Transforming Farming Amid Climate Change
© Getty Images News/Andrea Verdelli

In central India, tomato growers face a stark reality: extreme weather events and severe droughts are endangering their crops and livelihoods. But halfway across the globe, a Silicon Valley startup, ClimateAi, is harnessing artificial intelligence to offer hope and solutions to these farmers.

Battling Climate Challenges with Technology

For the tomato growers in Maharashtra, India, the last decade has been marred by harsh climatic conditions that have led to significant crop losses. Enter ClimateAi, a startup that is developing an AI platform designed to assess the vulnerability of crops to warming temperatures.

This innovative tool leverages data on climate, water, and soil conditions to predict the viability of landscapes for future cultivation.

Transformative Insights for Farmers

Maharashtra served as one of the first case studies for ClimateAi in 2021.

Farmers in the region could use the app to input data about their seed varieties and intended planting locations. The app's AI then ran simulations to predict the impact of extreme heat and drought on crop yields. The results were eye-opening: a projected 30% decrease in tomato output over the next two decades.

Armed with this information, tomato producers in Maharashtra took proactive steps. They shifted to more climate-resilient seed varieties and adjusted their planting schedules. This pivot, which traditionally could take years, was accomplished in minutes, representing a significant cost-saving measure.

Himanshu Gupta, a co-founder of ClimateAi, emphasizes the role of AI as a “time and effectiveness multiplier” in combating climate change challenges.

AI’s Broader Environmental Impact

The potential of AI in environmental applications is vast, from enhancing weather models to optimizing resource use.

Fengqi You, a professor at Cornell University, highlights AI's strong predictive capabilities, which can be instrumental in understanding complex climate systems. However, the environmental footprint of AI itself cannot be overlooked.

The technology relies on data centers filled with energy-intensive computers, posing a potential environmental strain. This necessitates a careful balance, where software engineers must work collaboratively with climate scientists to mitigate the technology's impact.

Despite these challenges, experts like Kara Lamb from Columbia University believe that the benefits of AI in addressing climate-related issues outweigh its drawbacks. AI stands as a pivotal tool in accelerating solutions to climate change, a pressing need given the rapid pace of global warming.

India