Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group Explores AI to Help Ag Deliver Needed Eco Services

July 20, 2021

Work to secure Florida’s agricultural future long undertaken by the state’s farm, ranch and forestry leaders reaches a milestone with events this week that demonstrate the sector is not just one that simply produces commodities, but also serves to simultaneously filter and store water, enhance biodiversity, improve the environment and deliver high value, near-term solutions to climate change.

The Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group (FL-CSA) co-sponsored and supported by Solutions from the Land and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is providing catalytic leadership in transforming the core function of the state’s agriculture sector.

The FL-CSA is a self-directed group of many of the state’s agricultural and forestry thought leaders and value chain partners who are developing a roadmap to help producers sustainably intensify production, improve resilience, reduce/sequester greenhouse gases and produce high-value agroecosystem services.

On Thursday, FL-CSA work group leaders, in collaboration with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF) and Solutions from the Land (SfL), are hosting their first field day to demonstrate the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to monitor and measure the AgroEcosystem Services (AES) that producers deliver.

The goal of this initiative is to provide data in support of public policy incentives that enable Florida producers to expand their delivery of the public benefits that sustainably managed farms, ranches and forests deliver. To measure AES, it is important that all or most of the relevant services and their interactions are included. These services act together naturally in an agricultural system and their true value resides in this interaction.

However, this type of analysis is extremely complex and a tool that measures across AES is not currently available to producers or policy makers. To develop such an AES tool, the University of Florida (UF) and its partners plan on developing tools using novel AI approaches that are perfectly suited to address the complexity to measure the ag-eco services.

Part of the unique opportunity that the University of Florida brings to the AI project is the involvement of students in both agricultural and engineering disciplines that will work directly with collaborators at each point in the initiative. The FL-CSA group will be mentoring students and giving them hands-on experience with their industry and operations, matching a student envoy with each stakeholder node and collecting the necessary AES data, exploring ways to improve data flow and collectively test the AI-AES tools that are developed.

The field day is part of a campaign to scale up the adoption of climate smart agriculture systems and practices across the state. By convening with government, academic and non-profit leaders to highlight AI-based innovation, the FL-CSA leadership aims to advance its work to incentivize currently unpaid public services in sequestering carbon, providing wildlife habitat, and protecting communities against flooding.

As SfL has long advocated across several initiatives, the only way for these programs to be successful is for them to truly work for farmers, ranchers and foresters. With that imperative in mind, FL-CSA leaders are discussing and defining what it would take for those who work the land to participate in policy building, including financial incentives that can help compensate growers for higher-cost, more precise practices.

In addition to the AI initiative, the FL-CSA work group is investing time and effort this year into a major communications initiative. With support from the VoLo Foundation, the work group is developing and airing a series of semi-monthly public services announcements, with accompanying op-eds and feature articles to run in select state newspapers, all to help educate the public about Florida agriculture’s contributions to a better environment.

In addition to the AI initiative, FL-CSA is exploring pathways and partnerships to support the construction of an agricultural vulnerability assessment that identifies, quantifies and prioritizes the susceptibilities Florida’s farms, ranches and forestlands face from climate change and other threats. Work group leaders are also developing a plan of action to engage underserved and socially disadvantaged producers, including building a strategy to identify and understand the unique needs of these communities. And the group is exploring distributed generation models of solar energy development where landowners would have an equity position in the project.

SfL lauds the hard-working members of this Florida group of ag and forestry leaders. Their initiative, dedication to their industry and commitment to a better environment underscores the growing role of all in the agricultural sector to making our world a better place.

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