Algorithm-Enabled Strawberry Planting Provides New Future for Agriculture


More than two months ago, engineer Cheng Biao participated in the Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo’s Duoduo Smart Agriculture Competition, jointly held by China Agricultural University and Pinduoduo, a competition between humans and computers to plant strawberries on plateaus which requires the participating teams to control the growth of strawberries using AI algorithms within 120 days. Final resulting strawberries will be evaluated in terms of yield, taste and cost of strawberries.

In the 6th week, Cheng saw the AI teams have better strawberry growing conditions than the traditional teams, about one week to 10 days ahead, and this meant that if his strawberries go to market one week earlier than others, he would have lower pricing for the week. This preliminarily result proves that AI algorithms have game-changing potential.

The AiCU team, instead, due to COVID-19, participated in the competition in the Netherlands in a remote manner, practicing the scenario of farming in front of computer screens. In their greenhouses, AiCU teams have equipment to read environment parameters in real time including temperature and light, as well as delivering automatic controls.

Cheng saw the reliability of overseas remote planting: a big opportunity to change agricultural production at the source, and the starting line of combining small farmers to realize large-scale and standard agricultural production. He immediately set up a commercial company, aiming to provide AI algorithm solutions to help farmers reduce water and fertilizer consumption and improve yield.

Participating teams have brought forward the strawberry harvesting period in Yunnan by more than 60 days, achieving a great result and this has led to increased awareness of the importance of digital agriculture. When the team of top farmers water and fertilize the fields, the AI team only needs to adjust the model and feedback parameters, then the ventilation windows and fertilization system respond automatically.

The overall result of the AI teams can be summarized as “one-click planting”, as they developed a repeatable, replicable and reproducible cloud system through standardization and digitalization of the strawberry planting process. Digital farming can collect data for management and develop real-time peer comparisons between workers for performance appraisals. For farmers, this means easy work with more benefits.

The second half of the competition will definitely see more surprises in the next two months given the success in the first half.

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