As the concern for food scarcity continues to rise across the globe, farmers in states like Wisconsin are working to produce more crops using fewer resources such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Wisconsin is currently the 13th-leading exporter of food, forestry and agriculture products in the United States, exporting more than $3.96 billion in agriculture and food products to 146 countries in 2021. To effectively increase crop production, a growing number of farmers are investing in agriculture technology using cameras and artificial intelligence (AI), to learn more about the health of their crops and make more timely and precise decisions regarding fertilization and chemigation, which conserves these valuable resources.
One example of how Wisconsin farmers are adopting advanced technology is Alsum Farms, Inc. Located approximately 50 minutes west of Madison, the farm grows, sources and packages high-quality fruits and vegetables to a national network of grocery stores. Among other crops, the operation includes approximately 2,700 acres of potatoes and 300 acres of pumpkins, which are grown in the lower Wisconsin River valley and Central Sands region. Pivot irrigation is a necessity on the sandy soil to yield quality crops each year, and according to farm manager Beau Hartline, more than 60 Valley pivots are used at Alsum Farms, Inc. to help produce high yields.
The operation utilizes a traditional crop scouting program to help identify weeds, pests and diseases. However, after learning about Plant Insights, Hartline decided to integrate the technology to upgrade operations on three center pivots. Plant Insights is part of a suite of artificial intelligence (AI) services offered by Prospera, a Valmont® company and global leader in agricultural AI and machine learning. The technology allows farmers to transform center pivot irrigation equipment into a complete crop health monitoring machine by combining high-resolution pivot-mounted cameras to capture thousands of leaf-level images with every pivot rotation. The images are collected, analyzed and made available to growers from any mobile device or web browser. Seeing a leaf-level analysis of their crops empowers them to make quicker and more precise decisions about irrigation and chemigation across specific areas of their fields.
At Alsum Farms, Hartline can use his smartphone or tablet to gain a closer and more detailed look at what is happening within his fields. For example, although fields were physically scouted weekly during the last growing season, Plant Insights' AI identified the emergence of weeds in a field that scouts had missed. Using Plant Insights and analysis as a guide to pinpoint the exact location, the field was treated immediately, which resolved the issues and prevented more weeds from spreading.
Another potential threat Alsum Farms is addressing with Plant Insights is the Colorado potato beetle. The farm relied on Plant Insights to monitor for the emergence of the pest. Hartline was able to zoom in to the imagery that detected even the smallest beetle larvae and make decisions on where and when to apply treatment — added efficiency that reduces the amount of chemicals used and the impact on the environment
According to Hartline, the key difference Plant Insights makes to their crop scouting program is the ability to see a wider picture of their fields to narrow down potential issues and reduce chemical use by only treating affected areas identified by data. “You can walk through your fields as often as you want, but you’re only seeing a small fraction at a time,” commented Hartline. “Now we have cameras traveling over our fields every single time we run our pivots. Plant Insights compounds the amount of information we’re getting — at the leaf level. If you can limit a weed or a pest and improve yield even a little bit, I feel it more than pays for Plant Insights.”
The ability to see plants from across a field up close at any time during the growing season empowers farmers like Hartline to greatly reduce their use of resources while producing higher crop yields to meet growing food demand across the globe.