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Ag AI Pros Cons Aired at Senate Ag Hearing

Artificial intelligence on the farm is no longer a sci-fi dream, but a reality. But there are costs as well as benefits, as the Senate Ag Committee heard at a recent AI hearing. The benefits are clear, according to UC Davis’ Mason Earles, who co-leads the USDA-funded AI Institute for Next-Generation Food Systems.

Earles says, “These national AI Institutes are working on programs that aim to relieve labor shortages, via AI-driven robotic harvesters and tree crops, monitor the health and stress of livestock using AI-enabled sensors, and predict climate and crop risk by building AI-accelerated models that could eventually be used to precisely control irrigation and nutrient emitters.”

And surgically target weeds with herbicides. But with more technology comes more risks. Jose Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University says, “Just before Russia invaded Ukraine, we saw pictures of tractors stuck in fields, unable to move, because the systems had been attacked. And that created an impetus for us to do some work on trying to protect farm vehicles from similar kinds of attacks that could occur from unfriendly states.”

Deere and Company’s Senior V.P. and Chief Technology Officer Jahmy Hindman says the Moline, Illinois firm already builds security into its software. Hindman says, “We then look towards external partners to do things like penetration testing. We partner with ‘white hat hackers.’ Hacker one would be an example, where we do a ‘bug bounty’ program. We pay for ethical hackers to try to hack into our systems and expose vulnerabilities before they become public so that we can remedy those.”

And Hindman says producers have the final say on data privacy. But more research is needed in the rapidly growing field, something lawmakers may consider as part of the next farm bill.

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