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Microsoft to open source its farming toolkit and promises to help farmers worldwide

Microsoft to open source its farming toolkit and promises to help farmers worldwide

Microsoft will open source its “farm of the future” toolkit, Project FarmVibes. This is a new suite of tools from Microsoft Research that farmers may use to increase their productivity. It includes methods for reducing water and chemical consumption, monitoring crops and sustainably growing yields.

A farmer named Andrew Nelson teamed with Microsoft Research to use his 7,500 acres as a testing ground for Project FarmVibes.

“Project FarmVibes is allowing us to build the farm of the future,” said Nelson in a Microsoft AI blog. “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 first open-source release is FarmVibes.AI. This technology contains a set of algorithms that helps farmers increase yield and improve efficiency. Microsoft also hopes it can inspire additional research in the agricultural data science field. The toolkit includes Async Fusion, SpaceEye, DeepMC, and a “what if” analytics tool. These tools allow farmers better to understand their crops, soil, and microclimate to make better growing decisions. In the future, farmers can also use the toolkit to help farmers enter carbon markets by estimating the amount of carbon that can sequester in the soil.

For example, the Microsoft Azure-based FarmVibes.AI algorithms can predict the following:

  • The correct quantity of fertilizer and pesticide to use, as well as where to apply them.
  • Predict wind speeds and temperatures across fields, informing when and where to plant and spray.
  • Determine the ideal depth to plant seeds based on soil moisture.
  • Teach how different crops and practices can keep carbon sequestered in soil.

Microsoft plans to have a more significant impact and reach by open-sourcing the toolkit. In doing so, they also hope to motivate others to develop upon it and create more sophisticated tools for farmers worldwide. Ranveer Chandra, managing director of Research for Industry, stated that by open-sourcing its latest tools, Microsoft also wants to help address world food issues.

According to Chandra, by 2050, we will need to increase global food production by 100% to feed the growing population. However, as climate change progresses, water levels will continue to drop and farmland will steadily disappear. As a result, growing food effectively in a long-term sustainable way will be difficult. Therefore it’s critical to look to data for assistance.

According to Microsoft, this technology could also help tackle climate change by reducing the amount of water and chemicals used while also increasing productivity sustainably. The FarmVibes.AI tool has the potential to remove carbon from farms that contribute to global warming. In this way, agriculture can be part of the solution to climate change rather than just a contributor.

FarmVibes.Edge  Source: Microsoft

Microsoft also has plans to opensource another tool called FarmVibes.Edge. This technology compresses data from drone scouting flights to help farmers more easily identify areas of concern, like weeds in a field. According to Microsoft, this can save farmers time and money. So far, user feedback has been positive, with Nelson reporting saving up to 40% on their farming costs.

“With more powerful equipment, I can farm 7,500 acres where my grandfather farmed 750″, added Nelson in a Microsoft blog. “With Project FarmVibes, technology is helping me get back to farming on that smaller scale — acre by acre, instead of field by field — because I have such a fine-grained understanding of the land.”

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