Agriculture

Machine Learning & AI

From Code to Table - Using Technology for Smarter Food Production

Conserving water and power while improving crop yield is vital to the commercial agriculture industry’s long-term success. Using natural resources as efficiently as possible translates to higher-quality food and good land stewardship. A global leader in freshwater and wastewater management, about to embark on a high-stakes environmental project, wanted to thrive in both arenas. It partnered with BlueGranite to ensure success. Together, we are applying data science and information technology to create a state-of-the-art precision irrigation system. Our collaboration is a great example of what Microsoft calls Digital Transformation, where businesses reimagine how their people, data, and processes can better work together to benefit their business and customers.

From Code to Table - Using Technology for Smarter Food Production

The expert water manager was gearing up to create a custom irrigation application – designed to safely and sustainably create wealth from farms – for a region facing a freshwater crisis. Regional land use practices and rapid economic growth combined to create E. coli tainted-water, as irrigation water flowed through pastures and into freshwater supplies. The region’s government designed environmental regulations to address the crisis, but the rules required farmers to completely overhaul business practices; ranchers and growers had to begin accounting for the amount of irrigation and the application location, and to ensure irrigation wasn’t passing through animal waste and into the general water supply. Farmers needed a way to cost-effectively and easily comply; a way to use modern technology to make data-driven decisions. The water management leader partnered with BlueGranite to help achieve that goal.

BlueGranite’s role was to co-design a solution allowing farmers to gather more data about business practices and land, then apply it intelligently to irrigation patterns. Farms vary – each field has a different topography. The slope, crop type, and propensity of soil to absorb water is individual to each location. Our solution allows farmers to use a web application to interactively identify areas of the field that need special consideration based on these features, such as sections that need less water, or no water at all, to avoid improper drainage. The R statistical platform then performs significant geospatial data engineering and advanced analytics to apply those “instructions” correctly to hundreds of individual sprinklers as they navigate the field. Microsoft’s Machine Learning Server hosted on Azure is the instrumental technology that delivers R code as APIs (application programming interfaces). These APIs are used directly by other platform components developed by the client to provide a precise, tailored prescription to each field.

This solution illustrates the power of digital transformation for our client’s products. The company’s value proposition – or unique benefit to customers – centers on its water management leadership. It now can also offer increased speed and accuracy in developing precision irrigation prescriptions, enabling farmers to continue environmental stewardship. Additionally, this project has laid the foundation to offer crucial data-driven insights as part of its water management service, which is creating new revenue channels. It’s a valuable solution that opens the door to exciting future AI (artificial intelligence) possibilities.

Here’s a sample architecture diagram of what was implemented:

Application Layout

Rapid developments in pre-built AI tools such as Microsoft’s Cognitive Services allow us to quickly investigate topics like object detection and visual pattern recognition for crop disease or under-irrigated areas of a field. These capabilities could be used to alert growers and dealers to maintenance and crop growth issues before they impact yield. Using external data such as satellite imagery, soil composition, elevation, and weather, AI could be used to provide precision treatment prescriptions based on industry and scientific best practices.

These tasks are currently done by highly-trained agronomists – specialists in crop science focused on improving the amount and quality of food produced by the land. But they are in short supply and applying their expertise manually to each field does not meet the water management supplier’s needs to provide these services to thousands of fields around the world. The good news is that agronomists, data scientists, and architects can now work together to train AI for prescription development and apply those models at scale, in a fraction of the time it currently takes.

As a leader in the water management industry, our client knows embracing digital transformation is critical to continued success. BlueGranite is proud to be a part of that journey, helping integrate data science and AI into the company’s products and its customer engagement. Are you ready to transform your business? We would love to be a part of your journey. Contact us today.

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