U Of Illinois Researchers Develop Digital Tools For Agriculture To Be More Environmentally Sustainable

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By Marianne Stein, University of Illinois

Agricultural producers face dual challenges of increasing output for a growing world population while reducing negative effects on the environment. Digital technologies and artificial intelligence can facilitate sustainable production, but farmers must weigh opportunities and risks when deciding whether to embrace such tools.

In a new Agricultural Economics paper, University of Illinois scientists propose a research methodology to measure producers’ willingness to adopt new technologies related to digital agriculture.

The paper outlines some of the sustainability challenges for U.S. agriculture and why it is difficult to address those challenges with conventional technologies, explains Madhu Khanna, distinguished professor in agricultural and consumer economics (ACE) and director of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (iSEE) at the U of I.

“Digital and artificial intelligence technologies can play a role in moving us to a more sustainable future, but there are barriers to usage,” Khanna says. “Farmers are typically cautious of adopting new technology until the benefits have been well demonstrated and uncertainties have been reduced, and they see their neighbors and other peers adopting.”

The paper’s authors include agricultural economists, engineers, computer scientists, and environmental scientists. All are part of the Center for Digital Agriculture (CDA) and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture / National Science Foundation’s AIFARMS Institute at the U of I. These projects have a goal to promote the application of artificial intelligence towards a future of sustainable farming.

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