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AI is the future of Florida's agriculture, says an industry leader ahead of an Orlando conference

Orange and black drone floating over dry grass with a person holding the remote control in a blurred background standing in front of some trees that are also blurred.
University of Florida researchers are using artificial intelligence to help citrus growers better forecast their seasonal production. Preliminary studies show a model that predicts yields with 98% accuracy, way up from the 75% to 85% growers get when they count their trees manually, according to UF's website.

We discuss the future of technology in Florida’s ag industry with a national leader in developing the science that supports food production and management of natural resources.

Monday through Wednesday, agriculture business people and academics developing new artificial intelligence technologies are coming together in Orlando for a conference.

Agriculture lags behind most other major industries in terms of integrating data management through artificial intelligence, but it's catching up very quickly, according to J. Scott Angle, the senior vice president at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

He said AI robots can help during labor shortages for crop picking, as well as save money on irrigation and pesticide application. A-I can even help prepare growers for a warming climate. Angle said agriculture is going to be a very high-tech industry.

"It's got to happen here in Florida first. And if it doesn't happen, I don't think we're going to have much of an industry left," Angle said.

Angle said AI is changing also how the college’s agriculture students are taught. He said enrollment in the field is "not very good" right now, partly due to young people's perceptions of agriculture.

"They want something more high-tech. Our industry will change," Angle said. "It will be high tech to maintain this equipment, to fly the drones and most importantly, to make sense of information. That's very different from what agriculture is today, but that will be the future."

The agriculture industry is going through a revolution right now, Angle said, and that it's not going to resemble what it once was.

The University of Florida has made a huge investment in artificial intelligence, in part, by hiring 100 faculty focusing specifically on AI, he said.

Scott called the AI in agriculture conference this week is the first of its kind in Florida.

Click here for the AI in agriculture conference agenda.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.