Updated: Jun 24
What farmers, innov8.ag, Microsoft, & PepsiCo are doing to save the world
With an expected 2 billion increase in the world's population to 9.7 billion in the next 30 years, we are going to face some tremendous hardships in terms of food shortages and insufficient resources. Food production will need to increase by 70% to meet the needs of a population growing at that staggering rate. At this point, our agriculture ecosystem isn't equipped to meet that kind of demand.
Not only does population growth affect demand for food production but it also directly correlates to water usage. More food produced means more water used. Global demand for water is increasing rapidly, but at the same time the global water supply is becoming more scarce. Thankfully, many researchers and sustainability initiatives are relying on AI to cultivate and use resources more efficiently in preparation for further water shortages and global population growth.
innov8.ag's role in sustainability
innov8.ag's mission is to improve the agricultural sector’s productivity and viability by enhancing that sector's ability to satisfy rising global demand for food and to become better stewards of the earth’s limited water and soil resources.
Given ag's significant need for water to produce food for the growing population, creativity is the theme for many growers when it comes to water conservation. That's one of the reasons our advisory board includes experts in irrigation.
Sprinkler efficiency is one approach to reducing water consumption. To complement improvements in sprinkler heads, innov8.ag is partnering with Washington State University's IAREC team to build AI capabilities to dynamically identify and adjust water fill/refill recommendations based on nano-climate weather, soil moisture and satellite data. With soil moisture probes as "ground truth," we work with growers to measure the amount of water in the ground and the rate of percolation through the soil. This allows growers to accurately measure their own water needs and usage and to adjust water run times based on AI-informed fill/refill rates.
What does this mean for the grower?
Less water means:
Lower electricity costs to run irrigation pumps, which impacts bottom lines. One grower we work with with has 6,000 acres of irrigated land and spends $1,000,000 per year on electricity costs to operate irrigation pumps. With AI-driven soil moisture predictions, a grower can save anywhere from 5 to 30 percent on electricity alone, which means tremendous savings.
Lower humidity for crops, which typically means they're less susceptible to pests and disease, which can lead to less time and money spent applying herbicides and pesticides.
Ability to maintain applied nutrients (fertilizer) at the root level, as opposed to flushing them beyond the roots which requires application of more chemicals throughout the season.
Higher yield or higher quality crops, as the water input is optimized to meet the needs of changing crop needs throughout the growth cycle.
Less water used, which means more water available to other sectors, including consumers.
Which brings us back to the water crisis.
According to UN-endorsed projections, global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40% in 2030, thanks to a combination of climate change, human action and population growth.
Another example where innov8.ag is empowering growers with data is through the use of weather prediction to optimize water usage, which is why one of our first hires was Harmony Liu, who has a PhD in atmospheric and oceanic science.
By leveraging a combination of public weather data and implementing weather stations throughout their crops, growers can detect and anticipate climate changes, allowing them to make more informed decisions as to how to protect or water their crops. Whether heat or freeze, growers can fine-tune watering of their crops in to account for various factors unique to their fields, including temperature and wind. Use of weather stations allows growers to detect nano-climate changes and projections throughout the day, providing them with the information they need to decide when to give plants the extra nutrients they need.
Ultimately, innov8.ag's focus is to bring together data silos, including water usage, electricity costs, multiple weather sources, soil moisture, plant growth stage and ET, growth degree days, historical and projected yield, commodity prices, and labor availability. Growers who can holistically access and examine this data can make more informed decisions, resulting in optimized time management, lower labor and water costs, and more money saved.
With all of these environmental changes, we're increasingly seeing big companies place more emphasis on sustainability. This is having a ripple effect on food suppliers and farmers in that they're being asked to quantify their environmental impact and improvements—with water being just one aspect of that quantification. innov8.ag recently met with two companies that are heavily investing in sustainability programs: PepsiCo and Microsoft.
PepsiCo & Sustainability:
PepsiCo is well-known for its colas and drinks, but it also has a strong water component. Its products are consumed approximately a billion times each day in more than 200 countries around the world, PepsiCo has more than enough global influence to make a difference in our world.
The company is committed to using its global influence for good and to integrating sustainability into its core business strategy. Agriculture is one of its main focuses. PepsiCo has a very similar vision to that of innov8.ag, which is to develop new practices and technologies that give growers tools and capabilities to better manage their resources.
Interestingly, PepsiCo is one of the largest global suppliers of potato chips—and potatoes love water. Modern potato varieties are sensitive to soil water deficits and need frequent, shallow irrigation. A 120 to 150 day potato crop consumes from 500 to 700 mm of water. Depletion of more than 50 percent of available soil water during the growing period results in lower yields. To reduce the water needs of potatoes, scientists are developing drought-resistant varieties with longer root systems.
But further significant water savings can be made by tailoring the timing and depth of water applications to specific stages of the plant's growth cycle. PepsiCo is investing in that kind of technology to save even more water. Innov8.ag recently had the opportunity to connect with PepsiCo's sustainability initiative team to talk about our potential contribution to their company's goals.
Estimates indicate that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions.
As a Microsoft partner, we're delighted that Microsoft also invests heavily in sustainability and water initiatives, as evidenced by the appointment of Chief Environmental Officer Lucas Joppa. Microsoft is also taking action to help preserve water through the aid of AI, focusing on techniques like monitoring water supplies, managing water in mega-cities, and better understanding weather impacts. Not only is Microsoft taking action toward water sustainability, but the company also aims to use AI technology to transform agriculture as a whole. Microsoft is partnering with companies like Innov8.ag and has even been involved in the development of self-driving, GPS-guided tractors.
Through the use of innov8.ag's soil moisture analysis capabilities, AI machine learning, and satellite imagery, growers around the world can make more optimal decisions with regard to planting and irrigation.
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