Artificial intelligence in agriculture: for the collection of precise and valuable data – La Nouvelle Union et L’Avenir de l’Érable

Updata, a company based in Victoriaville, carries out artificial intelligence (AI) projects in various fields. Among them, agriculture where technological advances make it possible to go further by collecting extremely precise data, in order to improve the performance of the farm and help in decision-making.

André Baillargeon, business development manager, and Maor Zaltzhendler, CEO of Updata, explain that artificial intelligence can intervene in the different aspects of agriculture. Whether it is plant or market gardening, animal production, greenhouse production, processing or distribution, different processes can be put in place to ensure better management and therefore, in turn, better profitability.

The term “artificial intelligence” can impress at first glance. But it is in fact the collection of data, by cameras, sensors, drones or others, in order to process them in an optimal way and thus facilitate decision-making.

For example, in crop or vegetable production, different stages can benefit from AI. “With soil analysis in precision agriculture, it is possible to analyze humidity, diseases in plants and allow predictions to be made in order to be able to take automated actions, at the level of fertilization. for example or irrigation”, summarizes André. The sensors are thus installed directly on the agricultural equipment in order to carry out the analysis in real time in the fields.

We are also beginning to see, on cultivated land, completely autonomous robots criss-crossing the hectares, working and analyzing production at the same time. “Agriculture is a productivity business because you have to feed a lot of people. Optimization is therefore the challenge and that is what we are working on”, adds Maor.

Already, a first phase of automation has taken place, with the arrival of machinery in the fields. “But there is always an operator,” adds Maor. Thus, in the context of the labor shortage that we have known for several years, artificial intelligence, the next phase of automation, comes into play in order to carry out tasks that no longer have to be carried out by a human. With computer vision, for example, added to artificial intelligence, we can precisely see where the weeds are in the fields and treat them. “It’s not about replacing humans,” insists the CEO. But simply to use the workforce in the right places and leave the less interesting or repetitive tasks to the technology and, thereby, increase productivity.

Thus, a lot of excessively precise data can be collected and analyzed in agriculture, allowing to improve yield and facilitate decision-making. This is what Updata does, which works in the region with Fruit d’Or, a cranberry producer who wants to improve his methods.

“There are also things that humans can’t perceive that artificial intelligence will be able to determine,” says Maor. For example, from a multitude of information collected, the AI ​​will be able to identify exactly the best methods to ensure ideal production.

Agricultural producers are already well aware of the importance of automating tasks and new technologies are becoming essential in order to remain competitive. “We must optimize the agricultural land which is more in demand than before”, believe the two specialists from Updata.

The same phenomenon applies to animal production, particularly in order to control diseases. For example, microphones, placed in a chicken coop, collect the sounds of the birds which are then analyzed, making it possible to detect if the chickens are too hot, cold, in short any anomalies. “It also allows growth analysis and volume prediction. For example, we are working on a project with a fish producer who wants to know in advance how much meat he will produce,” says André. Tasks, it should be remembered, that are impossible or very difficult for humans to perform over a long period of time. Not to mention the costs associated with such operations. In any case, the labor shortage is forcing the hand of some producers who have no choice but to find alternatives to “traditional” employees.

Artificial intelligence can also be integrated into food processing. In the factory, computer vision will be useful for volume quality control or a sorting task, for example. The same goes for distribution, while traceability and “just in time” are increasingly essential. The predictability that AI brings also helps to avoid or reduce food waste, another important concern these days.

Helping the region with AI

Updata thus wishes to develop the agricultural and animal clientele. “An important niche in the region,” says Maor.

The ideal is always to work with a group of producers in order to make the investment related to AI profitable. “But we also offer ideation sessions. If the company thinks it has a need, we can go and analyze with it, over one or two days, the opportunities to improve processes with artificial intelligence. It can also be in order taking or in administration that we can help. And the government offers training programs at this level, to take the first steps,” adds André.

And even if the technology can be expensive to buy, when you look at all the advantages it brings, it becomes an essential alternative. In the agricultural sector, in particular, which is constantly evolving, real-time analysis is increasingly essential in order to make the best decisions.

Updata is made up of a team of five people, based in Victoriaville (and five others outside the country), whose mission is to make artificial intelligence accessible to producers or entrepreneurs in Centre-du-Québec. It is there to support innovative companies, as well as agronomists, who wish to take a step further to meet the challenges of growth and productivity.

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Artificial intelligence in agriculture: for the collection of precise and valuable data – La Nouvelle Union et L’Avenir de l’Érable

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