Artificial intelligence (AI) is proving to be a match for humans at growing strawberries in Pinduoduo’s Smart Agriculture Competition, underscoring the potential that technology has in remaking the labor-intensive agricultural industry.
With less than a month to go before the strawberry-growing competition ends, the AI teams have tied the traditional farming teams in terms of sugar content levels, while leading by 175% on average in terms of production by weight. The interim data is from the first phase of the competition and does not represent the final tally.
By digitalizing and standardizing the strawberry planting process, it is envisioned that a “smart plug-in” can be developed so that even novices can grow strawberries like an expert through “one-click planting” in the future. Reducing the dependence on skilled farmers could help ensure food security as the farming labor force shrinks, according to He Dongjian, a top agricultural expert.
“It is an irreversible trend of fewer and fewer people engaged in agriculture,” said He, a professor at Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University and director of the Key Laboratory of Agricultural Internet of Things at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. “In 10 years, there will be unmanned farmlands.”
Indeed, while the traditional growers were watering and fertilizing their plots at the Smart Agriculture Competition, the AI teams needed only to adjust their algorithmic models and feedback parameters for the ventilation and fertilizing systems to respond automatically.
To be sure, any technological solution would have to make economic sense for the small farm-holders that characterize China’s agriculture industry.
That is why the Smart Agriculture Competition winner will be determined by the economic value created and the reliability, scalability, and technical merit of the agritech solutions deployed. The winner will also receive research funding, implementation support at a Duo Duo Farm in Yunnan, and academic and commercial support from Pinduoduo.
Pinduoduo organized the competition jointly with the China Agricultural University to gather the top minds in AI and agronomy to develop planting methods to raise productivity and yield. Under the technical guidance of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, this is the first cross-disciplinary smart agriculture competition in China organized by a technology company and university.
Through this competition, the organizers hope to encourage more young farmers and scholars to develop localized solutions that will further lower costs and digitize agriculture.
The competition has inspired at least one of the AI teams to seek to commercialize their research. And the response has been encouraging, underscoring the potential market demand for smart agriculture solutions to boost productivity and yield.