UF/IFAS

Artificial intelligence revolution comes to cattle country

Guest Commentary

Posted

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) on ranches and dairy farms represents tremendous potential to benefit the Florida cattle industry. That’s driving a discussion at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences about how to harness this potential with tools that gives ranchers insight on each animal in their herds.

Producers may already get more data from sensors and other technologies than any human mind can make sense of. AI can link and analyze all sorts of data that currently exists in separate silos. UF/IFAS animal scientists working with computer scientists and engineers could reveal relationships between data points that inform decisions down to the individual animal.

Imagine if we could link an individual cow’s feed efficiency to its unique genetics as we select animals for breeding. Imagine if we could identify the point for each animal on a ranch at which heat stress makes it ill.

Imagine, too, if we could tell by how many steps it takes and how its posture changes day-to-day if a cow is developing sore feet. Imagine the advances in milk production and animal welfare if we could predict and prevent illness by subtle behavioral changes like how often a cow shows up at the feed bucket.

Albert De Vries of the UF/IFAS Department of Animal Sciences is already using a form of AI called machine learning to determine with precision how to better breed cattle. He is also exploring using AI to measure how much a cow eats by analyzing changes in the topography of the grain in the trough.

As an editor of a prestigious international journal, De Vries has familiarized himself with a range of AI applications in cattle and dairy. He believes UF/IFAS needs to go more assertively into this line of inquiry.

I agree. I’ll be holding conversations with our animal scientists, agricultural and biological engineers, and others about how best to pursue research funding from agencies like the one I used to lead, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The first place we’re going to look for the resources to bring AI to local ranches or dairy farms, though, is right here in Gainesville. The University of Florida took a major step toward unlocking the potential of this game-changing technology when it announced in July a $70 million campus-wide AI initiative.

The announcement specifically mentioned the challenge of food insecurity as one of many possible areas to direct AI-fueled science. AI will become part of the curriculum at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and throughout campus so that our students take some level of knowledge and skills related to AI into their jobs.

The initiative is supported by a $25 million gift from UF alumnus Chris Malachowsky and $25 million from NVIDIA, the technology company he cofounded. UF is investing an additional $20 million in the initiative, which will create an AI-centric data center that houses the world’s fastest AI supercomputer in higher education.

We at UF/IFAS will be proposing to university administration how an investment of a substantial portion of these funds in agriculture can result in huge payoffs.

All this isn’t going to replace the intuition and responsible management practices ranchers develop from years of experience. AI, though, is one way UF/IFAS is likely to help the Florida cattle industry in the decade to come.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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