Although agricultural productivity may not improve at the rate of Moore’s law, its consistent increases in output have proven Malthusian predictions wrong. Agriculture innovation continues as evidenced by the new product offerings shown at the John Deere pavilion at CES2022.
In the above interview, Julian Sanchez, Director – Emerging Technology for John Deere, discusses two new products that will continue prior productivity gains that have seen agricultural output nearly triple since 1948. and will be important to meeting the 1.73% rate of productivity growth necessary to feed 10 billion people in 2050 (PDF).
- The See & SprayTM Ultimate uses computer vision to identify weeds and then targets herbicides only at the weeds. According to the John Deere website, this reduces non-residual herbicide use by more than two-thirds. The unit has two tanks, allowing for one pass to apply both broadcast fungicides, as well as the targeted herbicides. Benefits from targeted spraying include improvements in profitability, sustainability, and improved yields.
- Later this year, John Deere’s autonomous tractor will be available, helping farmers alleviate labor shortages. This tractor features six pairs of stereo cameras with a deep neural network that classifies each pixel in approximately 100 milliseconds, comparable to a human’s capability. The bottom line is that it should help a farmer’s bottom line by eliminating the need for a human in the cabin of the tractor. Plus, an autonomous tractor can work 18+ hours per day.
With the kind of sensor and brainpower necessary to make the above innovations work, it is clear that Moore’s law will be an important factor driving agriculture output needed to feed an estimated 2 billion additional mouths in 2050.
Interview Highlights: #
- 00:13 – Julian Sanchez shows a toy sprayer and its 130-foot wide arms.
- 01:09 – In some cases, up to 90% savings in herbicides have been realized with John Deere’s targeted spray technology. This reduction in herbicides leads to cost savings, as well as environmental benefits.
- 01:45 – Sanchez describes the autonomous tractor and how it is “set and forget”. He points out that, unlike a human, an autonomous tractor never gets tired and is always at peak performance.
- 03:45 – Although connectivity is important, data is stored locally on the tractor so that it can handle dead spots. The data is a valuable tool for improving farm productivity.
- 05:31 – Sanchez points out that it uses an internal combustion engine. The vehicle is much more efficient than one controlled by a human, as it is optimally performing to meet a particular task.
- 06:23 – The big economic gain is to help with labor shortages. The big benefit is improvement in quality of life, as it effectively frees up the farmer to perform other tasks.