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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Microsoft open sources its ‘farm of the future’ toolkit

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FARMINGTON, Wash. – The gently rolling hills here in eastern Washington have long grown rich harvests of wheat, barley and lentils.

Fifth-generation farmer Andrew Nelson is adding a new bumper crop to that bounty: Data.

He gathers it from sensors in the soil, drones in the sky and satellites in space. They feed Nelson information about his farm at distinct points, every day, all year long — temperature variations, soil moisture and nutrient levels, plant health and more.

Nelson in turn feeds that data into Project FarmVibes, a new suite of farm-focused technologies from Microsoft Research. Starting today, Microsoft will open source these tools so researchers and data scientists — and the rare farmer like Nelson, who is also a software engineer — can build upon them to turn agricultural data into action that can help boost yields and cut costs.

The first open-source release is FarmVibes.AI. It is a sample set of algorithms aimed at inspiring the research and data science community to advance data-driven agriculture. Nelson is using this AI-powered toolkit to help guide decisions at every phase of farming, from before seeds go into the ground until well after harvest.

FarmVibes.AI algorithms, which run on Microsoft Azure, predict the ideal amounts of fertilizer and herbicide Nelson should use and where to apply them; forecast temperatures and wind speeds across his fields, informing when and where he plants and sprays; determine the ideal depth to plant seeds based on soil moisture; and tell him how different crops and practices can keep carbon sequestered in his soil.

A man holds a tablet showing a multispectral image of a field.
Andrew Nelson studies a FarmVibes.AI image identifying grass weeds in one of his fields. It was created from multispectral drone imagery and will inform Nelson’s treatment decisions later this fall. (Photo: Dan DeLong for Microsoft)

“Project FarmVibes is allowing us to build the farm of the future,” said Nelson, who has partnered with Microsoft Research to turn his 7,500 acres into a proving ground for Project FarmVibes. “We’re showcasing the impact technology and AI can have in agriculture. For me, Project FarmVibes is saving a lot in time, it’s saving a lot in costs and it’s helping us control any issues we have on the farm.”

The new tools sprouted from Microsoft’s work with large customers like Land O’ Lakes and Bayer to integrate and analyze data. Project FarmVibes reflects more recent research in precision and sustainable agriculture.

By open sourcing its latest research tools, Microsoft wants to spread them far beyond Washington to help tackle the world’s urgent food problem, said Ranveer Chandra, managing director of Research for Industry.

By 2050, we’ll need to roughly double global food production to feed the planet, Chandra said. But as climate change accelerates, water levels drop and arable lands vanish, doing that sustainably will be a huge challenge.

“We believe one of the most promising approaches to address this problem is data-driven agriculture,” he said.





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