Alibaba Cloud to tackle food production and safety with AI

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Alibaba Cloud aims to increase efficiency and revenue for China’s farmers while improving food safety for consumers through the use of big data and artificial intelligence.  It’s new platform, dubbed ET Agricultural Brain, was launched in Shanghai on May 7.

The system is already being used by Tequ Group, a large food and farming enterprise, on its pig farms in Sichuan province. Additionally, Haisheng Group and Guoqiang Modern Farming have implemented the platform on their fruit and vegetable farms.

Alibaba Cloud says that by using visual recognition, voice recognition, and environmental parameter monitoring, the technology will allow farmers to oversee animals on a farm in real time. The platform’s pig farming applications were revealed in February 2018 when Alibaba signed a cooperation agreement with Tequ and Dekon Group to train and develop the ET Brain (in Chinese).

Simon Hu, senior vice president of Alibaba Group and president of Alibaba Cloud, announced the launch of ET Agricultural Brain at the Shanghai Computing Conference. (Image Credit: Alibaba Cloud)

Insights can be gained by monitoring the animal’s daily activity, growth indicators, and whether it is pregnant. Algorithms trained by the system can prescribe situation-specific courses of action. If an animal’s fat percentage is too high, activity plans can be automatically prescribed to cut down on fat and improve muscle mass.

“Originally, we had to rely on vets to look at [the animals], now we can do it all automatically,” Weng Degen, chairman of Tequ Group, said at the event. “It greatly reduces the disease rate and improves farming efficiency,” he said.

The company believes the platform will have a profound effect on animal husbandry, increasing a sow’s ability to produce newborns by three piglets per year, while decreasing unnatural death by 3%. Higher agricultural output through the use of AI can not only have an effect on revenue for farmers but also reduce prices and improve safety for consumers.

China’s bigger pig farms are beginning to produce a larger proportion of the country’s meat. Backyard farms accounted for 52% of pork production in 2017, dropping five percentage points in two years.  Conversely, large farms produced 5.7% of pork in China, up 2.8% year-on-year.

The country is the biggest consumer, producer, and import of pork in the world. In 2016, agriculture made up 8.6% of its GDP.