Artificial intelligence lends a helping hand to Turkish farmers

ŞULE GÜNER
ISTANBUL
Published 17.10.2018 23:29
Updated 17.10.2018 23:32
Climate change, population growth and food security has forced farmers and big cultivators to search for innovative solutions.
Climate change, population growth and food security has forced farmers and big cultivators to search for innovative solutions.

In a world where millions of people don't have access to healthy food, traditional agriculture methods are proving not to be enough. The future of cultivated areas is now in the hands of artificial intelligence and Turkish farmers are welcoming the change

When we were kids, we ate the most delicious fruits and vegetables but today none of us can find the same taste. In order to get more efficiency and grow more tasty food, technology is often used in agriculture around the world.

Isn't it a good idea to increase productivity with a technological method, which analyzes thousands, even millions of pieces of data that people alone can't handle, to offer the most appropriate choice for all conditions including climate, soil, water and agricultural products? Let's ask farmers if there is a technology which knows the answers to questions such as: "Which product and seeds are proper for me? When should I plant them? How much fertilizer and when should I use it? How much water should I give? Is there any harm or risk of illness? If there is, which medicine should I use? Is there any unhealthy area on my land? If there is, what should I do?" Good news, the answer is a little something called artificial intelligence (AI). This technology does not only prevent potential losses you might suffer but it also makes you increase the efficiency, finding the most proper and truest agricultural applications for you.

The use of AI in the agricultural field creates a boosting effect on the income that is earned from agriculture, especially in the U.S. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the contribution of agriculture to the economy in 2016 was $330 billion.

However, climate change, population growth and food security, which has become more popular in recent years, caused farmers and big cultivators to search for innovative solutions.

Artificial intelligence is known to get the best results. The agricultural use of AI is in three fields: agricultural robots, examining the harvest and soil, and predicting analyses. We are talking about agricultural robots which can sow seeds in larger areas much faster than people, algorithms of deep learning, methods that show the condition of the soil and products, combining unmanned air vehicle technology, and analyses that show the effect of environmental factors like the change of temperature during the harvest with machine learning.

Artificial intelligence for Turkey's 2023 vision

Selim Uçer, the co-founder of Doktar, a company that applies a method that makes farmers happy with it results, talked about what stage Turkey's use of artificial intelligence in agriculture is at.

"For Turkey, the use of these technologies carries great importance. Our country, which is one of the 10 biggest agricultural economies in the world, is unfortunately far behind developed countries when it is evaluated in terms of efficiency. With the use of these technologies in agriculture and other structural reforms, it will be quite possible to reach the 2023 targets which focus on increasing agricultural production by two and a half times and reaching $150 billion. There are more than 20 institutions where we use these technologies now, but we have just started the active marketing of most products. We expect this number will pass 1,000 this year. If we think in terms of agricultural area, we initially see that the interest of big companies and factories are intense. Probably, cultivators who produce in 300 decares or more will be the first users and transferring to small cultivators will take one or two years," he said.

12 percent of agricultural land to use AI

Uçer explained that Doktar, which has been serving the people for more than six years, made Turkish cultivators and institutions more equipped with digital technology and companies in the agricultural sector follow digital technologies.

He said that they will be able to follow 12 percent of agricultural area in Turkey with AI by 2020, according to their prediction.

In order to benefit from this technology, you need to ask. Is AI a luxury for agriculture in Turkey? How much is its cost? Uçer answers these questions.

"Benefiting from all of our services is around one percent of a middle-size corn cultivator's investment in annual seed, fertilizer and medicine. The potential income increase is at least around 20 percent. Think like a manager; your feedback will increase at least 20 percent in return for 1 percent cost of your investment. Do you make this investment in this situation? Besides, added value will decrease in the small areas which are not irrigated and where products which have not a much economic value like grains are grown and so farmers of them will not use it much. They only spread seeds and wait for the harvest. They do not have any investment or care. Therefore, they will not make this investment. However, the interest will increase when the area gets bigger and the values of fruits, vegetables and industrial products increase," he said.

World puts trust in Agritech



According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), agricultural production should be increased by 70 percent to avoid starvation in 20 years because of the population increase in the world and calorie needs increase of this population depending on enrichment.

Noting that the biggest hope of the U.N. in this issue is digital technologies and the use of AI, Uçer said, "There are many institutions that do research and development in this field, which is called 'Agritech' abroad. However, most of them are companies that try to develop different solutions in an independent way from each other as singular services. A work which creates artificial intelligence algorithms, depending on holistic big data analysis by combining the data coming from all devices is rare."

What does Doktar do?

With the use of digital technologies and AI in agriculture, it is possible to make a simulation of plant growth in a virtual environment, to decide the most proper plant nutrition, protection and irrigation methods. This way, the agricultural efficiency increases a few times more. In order to create this artificial intelligence, which is necessary for the most efficient, healthiest production with minimum cost, more than one product and technology should be used.

Doktar produces sensor stations necessary to evaluate the risk of illnesses or the meaning of soil and air condition measurements. Soil and plants are followed through satellites; the species, efficiency and health of plants are understood by image processing. Also, plant nutrition recommendations are developed after macro and micro elements in the soil are analyzed with the technologies like infrared light reading. Lastly, it turns all this data into information and action, processing them with big data analysis and machine learning in one center. When all these sensors, phenology models, image processing and machine learning algorithms combine, AI creates a super farmer.

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