skip to main content

Title: Artificial intelligence in farming: Challenges and opportunities for building trust

Artificial intelligence (AI) represents technologies with human‐like cognitive abilities to learn, perform, and make decisions. AI in precision agriculture (PA) enables farmers and farm managers to deploy highly targeted and precise farming practices based on site‐specific agroclimatic field measurements. The foundational and applied development of AI has matured considerably over the last 30 years. The time is now right to engage seriously with the ethics and responsible practice of AI for the well‐being of farmers and farm managers. In this paper, we identify and discuss both challenges and opportunities for improving farmers’ trust in those providing AI solutions for PA. We highlight that farmers’ trust can be moderated by how the benefits and risks of AI are perceived, shared, and distributed. We propose four recommendations for improving farmers’ trust. First, AI developers should improve model transparency and explainability. Second, clear responsibility and accountability should be assigned to AI decisions. Third, concerns about the fairness of AI need to be overcome to improve human‐machine partnerships in agriculture. Finally, regulation and voluntary compliance of data ownership, privacy, and security are needed, if AI systems are to become accepted and used by farmers.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Agronomy Journal
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Increasing the resilience of agricultural landscapes requires fundamental changes to the dominant commodity production model, including incorporating practices such as reduced tillage, cover cropping, and extended rotations that reduce soil disturbance while increasing biological diversity. Increasing farmer adoption of these conservation systems offers the potential to transform agriculture to a more vibrant, resilient system that protects soil, air, and water quality. Adoption of these resilience practices is not without significant challenges. This paper presents findings from a participatory effort to better understand these challenges and to develop solutions to help producers overcome them. Through repeated, facilitated discussions with farmers and agricultural and conservation professionals across the U.S. state of Michigan, we confronted the policy, economic, and structural barriers that are inhibiting broader adoption of conservation systems, as well as identified policies, programs, and markets that can support their adoption. What emerged was a complex picture and dynamic set of challenges at multiple spatial scales and across multiple domains. The primary themes emerging from these discussions were barriers and opportunities, including markets, social networks, human capital, and conservation programs. Exacerbating the technical, agronomic, and economic challenges farmers face at the farm level, there are a host of community constraints, market access and availability problems, climatic and environmental changes, and policies (governmental and corporate) that cross‐pressure farmers when it comes to making conservation decisions. Understanding these constraints is critical to developing programs, policies, and state and national investments that can drive adoption of conservation agriculture.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Precision agriculture (PA) has been defined as a “management strategy that gathers, processes and analyzes temporal, spatial and individual data and combines it with other information to support management decisions according to estimated variability for improved resource use efficiency, productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability of agricultural production.” This definition suggests that because PA should simultaneously increase food production and reduce the environmental footprint, the barriers to adoption of PA should be explored. These barriers include (1) the financial constraints associated with adopting decision support system (DSS); (2) the hesitancy of farmers to change from their trusted advisor to a computer program that often behaves as a black box; (3) questions about data ownership and privacy; and (4) the lack of a trained workforce to provide the necessary training to implement DSSs on individual farms. This paper also discusses the lessons learned from successful and unsuccessful efforts to implement DSSs, the importance of communication with end users during DSS development, and potential career opportunities that DSSs are creating in PA.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Smallholder farmers are some of the poorest and most food insecure people on Earth. Their high nutritional and economic reliance on home‐grown produce makes them particularly vulnerable to environmental stressors such as pollinator loss or climate change which threaten agricultural productivity. Improving smallholder agriculture in a way that is environmentally sustainable and resilient to climate change is a key challenge of the 21st century.

    Ecological intensification, whereby ecosystem services are managed to increase agricultural productivity, is a promising solution for smallholders. However, smallholder farms are complex socio‐ecological systems with a range of social, ecological and environmental factors interacting to influence ecosystem service provisioning. To truly understand the functioning of a smallholder farm and identify the most effective management options to support household food and nutrition security, a holistic, systems‐based understanding is required.

    In this paper, we propose a network approach to understand, visualise and model the complex interactions occurring among wild species, crops and people on smallholder farms. Specifically, we demonstrate how networks may be used to (a) identify wild species with a key role in supporting, delivering or increasing the resilience of an ecosystem service; (b) quantify the value of an ecosystem service in a way that is relevant to the food and nutrition security of smallholders; and (c) understand the social interactions that influence the management of shared ecosystem services.

    Using a case study based on data from rural Nepal, we demonstrate how this framework can be used to connect wild plants, pollinators and crops to key nutrients consumed by humans. This allows us to quantify the nutritional value of an ecosystem service and identify the wild plants and pollinators involved in its provision, as well as providing a framework to predict the effects of environmental change on human nutrition.

    Our framework identifies mechanistic links between ecosystem services and the nutrients consumed by smallholder farmers and highlights social factors that may influence the management of these services. Applying this framework to smallholder farms in a range of socio‐ecological contexts may provide new, sustainable and equitable solutions to smallholder food and nutrition security.

    A freePlain Language Summarycan be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

    more » « less
  4. In nine of the last 10 years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that the average funds generated on-farm for farm operators to meet living expenses and debt obligations have been negative. This paper pieces together disparate data to understand why farm operators in the most productive agricultural systems on the planet are systematically losing money. The data-driven narrative we present highlights some troubling trends in US farm operator livelihoods. Though US farms are more productive than ever before, rising input costs, volatile production values, and rising land rents have left farmers with unprecedented levels of farm debt, low on-farm incomes, and high reliance on federal programs. For many US farm operators, the indicators of a “good livelihood”—stability, security, equitable rewards for work—are largely absent. We conclude by proposing three axes of intervention that would help US agriculture better sustain all farmers' livelihoods, a crucial step toward improving overall agricultural sustainability: (1) increase the diversity of people, crops, and cropping systems, (2) improve equity in access to land, support, and capital, and (3) improve the quality, accessibility, and content of data to facilitate monitoring of multiple indicators of agricultural “success.” 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    The sustainability of agriculture in the American West depends on the capacity of farmers to adapt to water resource constraints. Most US studies of agricultural adaptations measure farmers’ willingness to adopt various water use reduction strategies, meaning we have little empirical data on which strategies farmers implement and how these decisions impact their farms. We use survey data from 265 farmers in southeastern Idaho who, beginning in 2016, were required to cut annual groundwater withdrawals by 4%–20% to identify (1) the adaptation practices farmers implemented; (2) how reported crop yields and farm income were impacted; and (3) how adaptation practices varied by farm and farmer characteristics. We found the most commonly used adaptations were reduced spending, installation of more efficient irrigation systems or less frequent watering, and changing crop rotations. Farmers reported losing on average 7.6% of their yield and 8.4% of their income over the first two years of the water cuts. We found no systematic variation based on specific farm or farmer characteristics. Drawing on these results and prior research, we present a typology of adaptation categories intended to inform future research, allow comparisons to adaptation strategies elsewhere, and assist policymakers in designing effective policy interventions.

    more » « less