How AI and Mini-Farms Can Provide a Better Future for Farmers


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The agricultural industry has a sustainability problem. Not only is agriculture responsible for as much as 30% of current greenhouse gas emissions, but today's farming practices are also actively harming the environment farmers need to keep healthy if they want to continue growing crops long term. Massive corporate farms that take up huge expanses of land threaten biodiversity. At the same time, the regular use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides all contribute to the soil's deterioration. That's in terms of both its health and a more literal sense — modern farming practices significantly speed up the soil erosion rate.These practices also leave farmers even more vulnerable to the growing effects of climate change. Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, and unseasonable freezes, will only increase in frequency. With few protections in place, these events will continue to wreak havoc on the agricultural industry. Luckily, there is a sustainable path forward for farming, and it's in the form of localized mini-farms.The construction of mini-farms would be especially beneficial in countries such as Japan. With very little flat, arable land available to grow vegetables and a cooler climate that necessitates greenhouse gas use in the winter, farming is a costly business financially and environmentally. On top of this, Japan is highly vulnerable to extreme climate events, including typhoons, heavy rains, and extreme summer heat. So, a future of vertical, climate-controlled micro-farms should be a welcome one for the country.

Why Smaller Is Better

Small farms are more sustainable and yield higher amounts of produce relative to their areas than their large counterparts because of how small farms typically operate. Smaller farms are more efficient and less harmful to biodiversity as well. However, reducing the size of farms alone wouldn't be enough to solve the sustainability issues facing farming. Instead, the industry needs to think even smaller.Mini-farms are contained, vertically built facilities that yield small amounts of crops monthly or even weekly. The closed, controlled environment of these farms eliminates the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides and allows for the reuse of water — an important defense against droughts. The purpose of these farms is to serve only the local population. They also cut farming's contributions to greenhouse gases significantly.Of course, you might ask, if micro-farming is such a great solution, why hasn't it already been implemented? Although there isn't a single answer to this, one major element is simply the fact that the tech wasn't there to make it a viable solution for a long time. Now, however, it's finally time to tap into the full potential of the benefits of technology in farming through artificial intelligence.

How AI Can Enable a Sustainable Future Through Mini-Farming

There's a reason farms today rely on pesticides and chemical fertilizers instead of trying to grow crops through organic means — it's cheaper and easier to scale. To create a controlled environment that can grow quality produce at a highly efficient rate, you need systems in place that can analyze a wealth of data and act on its findings. In other words, you need AI and automation to make mini-farms work. For a long time, the future of AI in agriculture seemed like a pipe dream. That's no longer the case.You can already see AI efforts at work in Japan to make farming more sustainable. Through data analysis, farmers have been able to determine how many seedlings to plant and the best time to do so, reducing the need for special fertilizers and cutting the use of pesticides by as much as half. Takuro Sato, an organic farmer, is even developing a soil resistant to pests, using data analysis to determine the optimal compost ingredients for the land and an app to manage the temperature of the soil in each of his fields.When applied to mini-farming, AI can do even more. Algorithms can be employed to keep interior weather conditions at the most advantageous levels. Light, humidity, temperature — these can all be optimized by AI and managed through automation. AI will also continue to learn from each growth cycle and will be able to determine which breeds grow best in specific conditions. It will even be able to select the varieties that produce the tastiest and most nutritious fruits and vegetables.Food waste can also be a thing of the past, thanks to mini-farms and AI food waste management. Instead of growing a large number of crops per season and hoping most of it doesn't go to waste, mini-farms can take a more targeted approach. By applying demand forecasting to frequent, small-batch growth cycles, farmers can get much better ideas of which crops to produce during specific times of the year and how much is truly needed. Through this approach, farmers can have a food waste reduction roadmap that actually gets them where they need to be.In the past, micro-farming might have been an expensive, time-consuming process. Now, however, it has the power to be the more efficient and sustainable solution modern farming needs.



Headshot of Tiago Ramalho

Co-founder and CEO

Tiago Ramalho

Tiago holds a Master's degree in Theoretical/Mathematical Physics and a PhD in Biophysics from Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich. After graduation, he joined Google DeepMind as a research engineer. There he worked on a number cutting-edge research projects which led to publications in international machine learning conferences and scientific journals such as Nature. He then joined Cogent Labs, a multinational Tokyo based AI start-up, as a lead research scientist. In August 2020 co-founded Recursive Inc, and is currently CEO.