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Artificial intelligence next step in the future of ag decision making

Three universities in the Corn Belt are part of an initiative that uses artificial intelligence to ramp up crop yields, create new seed varieties and allow producers to be more profitable.

James Schnable, an associate professor with the University of Nebraska, says the technology models crop conditions under different circumstances that change over several decades. “In both cases, the challenge we face is that we cannot test every possible combination of different varieties of crops grown in different parts of the state or different parts of the country with different growing practices.”

The AI Institute for Resilient Agriculture also includes Iowa State and the University of Missouri as part of a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

He tells Brownfield the process builds a digital twin – a virtual copy of physical objects and operations – to simulate endless scenarios and apply the findings to real-world decision making. “And we can test out many, many more scenarios on that digital twin,” Schnable says. “We can grow it in different conditions. We can apply different amounts of fertilizer at different times during the growing season. We can look at different patterns of weather and make predictions on how that crop variety will form.”

Schnable says the digital twins are a computer program that mimics similar decisions growers make. “Deep neural networks allow us to train a computer to think more like a human – feeding in lots and lots of data from different observations from people and farms in different years to make those same types of predictions about the future.”

The project also includes: New York University, the University of Arizona, George Mason University, the Iowa Soybean Association and Carnegie Mellon University, home to the world-class AI expertise that will power development of the digital twins.

James Schnable, associate professor with UNL’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture:

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