Drones, autonomous robots, artificial intelligence, cartography and digital imagery… the future of the agricultural world is taking shape with new technologies. Overview.
< source srcset="https://images.radio-canada.ca/q_auto,w_960/v1/ici-info/16x9/agrotech-agriculture-artificial-intelligence-technological-innovation-vertical-culture-drones -serres-560.jpg" media="(min-width: 0px) and (max-width: 99999px)"/>
Nicknamed “The Goat”, this autonomous robot pulls weeds and their roots.
Lately, Nicolas Deschamps has been walking his drones above the lettuces of the Delfland farm, which is part of its customers.
Coming from a family of farmers, this technology enthusiast is a drone pilot, but also an expert in digital imaging and data processing. He is the head of the Drones des champs company, which offers a business model combining data capture with drones and intervention with spreading drones.
Nicolas Deschamps, founder of the company Drones des champs
For example, he is leading a project here to count and calibrate lettuce plants. It films the fields and then, thanks to artificial intelligence, it is able to provide data to optimize production and harvesting according to market needs.
A godsend for this operation located in Napierville and which is one of the most important vegetable production in Quebec. It does business with mass distribution, which imposes a tight schedule and demanding quality standards.
This technology can be applied to onions, shallots and a few other vegetable crops.
Thanks to its flying machines, it can also parachute insects into crops. He is currently leading a project to spread capsules containing trichogramma. It is a micropredator that loves the European corn borer, a butterfly that attacks sweet corn.
Its drones, equipped with 10-litre tanks, can also spread seeds, fertilizers or pesticides. Technologies based on artificial intelligence make it possible to dose the quantities and to determine the areas where to apply the products.
In all cases, the objective is to gain in efficiency , but also to limit pollution by limiting the spreading of polluting products such as pesticides.
This autonomous robot is capable of weeding rows of lettuce.To do this, it has three articulated arms, guided by cameras linked to technology based on artificial intelligence.1/2This autonomous robot is capable of weeding rows of lettuce. See previous imageSee next image
“There is intelligence artificial everywhere in agriculture, not only in cereals, but also in breeding. »
— Nicolas Deschamps, President of Drones des champs
In the neighboring field, an autonomous robot is weeding rows of lettuce. Under its sheet metal carcass are three articulated arms that pull out unwanted plants. They are guided by cameras linked to artificial intelligence technology trained to detect weeds.
The result is spectacular. Not a weed in sight, just salads.
This robot, nicknamed “The Goat”, is completely autonomous. Its activity is programmed remotely, thanks to algorithms. It can work day and night, up to 24 hours non-stop, thanks to its hybrid motor.
Battery life is three to four hours. When the reserves are depleted, a diesel engine takes over, recharging the battery in about 30 minutes.
“The Goat” can do the work of five to eight people. Nexus is expanding its operations to a handful of farms in North America.
At the moment, the machine is offered for rent for $18,000 per month, which includes hardware, software and a technician who takes care of all operations. The contract is spread over a period of five years, but with an exit clause if the producer deems that the technology is not suited to his needs.
Robert Therrien is the founder of the company Les Serres point du day, at L'Assomption
If in field cultivation the advanced technology is rather in an experimental phase, in controlled environments, such as greenhouses or even recycled containers, it is already well established.
Here, everything is computerized, we have a 0.8 hectare greenhouse at the cutting edge of technology, says Robert Therrien, founder of the company Les Serres point du jour in L'Assomption, in Lanaudière.
It produces different varieties of tomatoes in hydroponics: red, grape and cherry. The environment is scrutinized by sensors scattered in every nook and cranny.Robert Therrien opens a box connected to the dozens of sensors installed in the greenhouse.This humidity sensor is connected to an application that controls watering.Here is the result: tomatoes grown by Les Serres du point du jour.1/3Robert Therrien opens a box connected to the dozens of sensors installed in the greenhouse.Photo : Vincent RességuierSee the previous imageSee the image next
After analyzing the data, computers operate autonomously the distribution of fertilizers, watering or heating. And with the help of innovative technology for artificial lighting provided by the firm Solum, it's always summer.
The plant is not under any stress, it has its desired amount of light, marvels Mr. Therrien, it is as if there were never any clouds. The system is fully computerized and controlled from Solum's offices in Montreal.
These technologies allow us to have the expected yield, concludes the trained agronomist, while emphasizing that there were a total of five sunny days in December and January.
Solum's LED lighting fixtures replicate the natural light of the sun. They were off when we were there.
The company Les Serres point du jour is part of the Agtech zone of L'Assomption. A business incubator that supports development in high-tech agriculture.
The general manager, Marilou Cyr, accompanies about twenty projects in the making which revolve around four themes: culture in a controlled environment, robotization and automation, the development of plant bioproducts and emerging foods, such as meat production. in the laboratory.
Marilou Cyr is the General Manager of Zone Agtech at L' Assomption in the Montreal area
According to her, this is not a trend just for fun. The development of technologies must respond to the challenges affecting the agricultural world, such as the shortage of labour, polluting activities or climate change.
Another major challenge is to constantly increase productivity to respond to the strong growth of the world population.
Professor of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at UQAM, Marc Lucotte, recalls in this regard that industrial agriculture is essential, since it would be necessary to multiply by three the surface area of cultivated land in the event of exclusive use of traditional agriculture or organic farming.< /p>
Quebec has an enviable position on the world stage, explains Ms. Cyr. La Belle Province is doing well in large part thanks to the complementarity of inexpensive hydroelectricity and the artificial intelligence hub of Montreal, which mainly benefits the development of indoor crops.
“21st century agriculture is a very high-precision industry, digital development will make it possible to work a field per square meter. »
— Marc Lucotte
The arrival of new technologies will force farmers to integrate new skills, in particular to master the digital interfaces that accompany the use of robots and to GPS.
Each connected device generates astronomical amounts of data. Basic notions are already taught in schools and training centers, says Nicolas Deschamps.
Drone used by Nicolas Deschamps to collect digital images.
The major obstacle, however, remains financing, in a context where agricultural businesses are going through a difficult period.
In this regard, several avenues are being explored, such as the creation of groups of purchase or rental of equipment. Ms. Cyr and her team also raise awareness among financial institutions to encourage them to support producers in the purchase of innovative agricultural technologies.
Nicolas Deschamps observes that the technologies are instead adopted by large agricultural companies that feed 70% of the population.
According to him, smaller producers and family farms should have a more moderate use of water. artificial intelligence and new technologies. Affordable tools for the general public are already available, for example, for weather forecasting.
For some it may also be a question of philosophy, he says, because the& #x27;farmer is above all an agronomist, and what he likes is going to his land.