Our story starts with a tomato and ends with a strawberry. They both relate to farm productivity.
And that could be the problem.
Close to 90 years ago, a tomato grower noticed that one of her (his?) tomato plants ripened evenly. Lacking the green shoulders of most tomatoes, it was firm, red, and round.
The new tomato was named and released in 1930 by the Fargo, North Dakota agricultural experiment station. Called the All Red, it soon became a grower’s dream and a consumer staple. Bred for firmness, size, disease resistance, and color, after World War II, the All Red dominated commercial tomato farming.
The only problem was taste. By eliminating the fruit’s green shoulders, farmers had also cut the sugar content that came from the plant’s chloroplasts.
During a recent four month competition, four farmers and four AI teams tried to become the best strawberry growers. The farmers used the traditional methods they knew from years of experience. Meanwhile, the AI groups were data driven. Software monitored their water and fertilizer needs. It told them how much, what, and when.
Easily, the AI people outperformed the farmers when we use output as our metric. Growing three times as much as the traditional farmers, the AI group’s ROI (return on investment) topped their competition by 75.5 percent.
Cheng Biao led the winning AI team:
Our Bottom Line: Farm Productivity
When we ask what the strawberry contest teaches us, we can look back and ahead.
Looking back, the strawberry competition reminds me of the Reverend Malthus. One of the first environmentalists, Reverend Thomas Malthus told us in 1798 that population grows geometrically while resource production expands arithmetically. Consequently, resource prices should have gone up while supply decreased. But they did not.
Instead, looking ahead, we see the monumental strides in agricultural productivity that AI will surely perpetuate:
I fear also that, like the All Red tomato, we might be looking ahead to less tasty (very pretty) strawberries
My sources and more: WEF and the IB Times have the details about the strawberry competition. Then, for more on farm AI, econlife went to Bright Farms and a US firm that does AI. (Please note that several of today’s sentences were in a previous econlife post.)