Price Instability of Agricultural Products Affects Farmers’ Livelihoods Seriously
Agricultural production is always prone to weather conditions, making the supply-demand imbalance the biggest pain point for farmers over the years. The improvements in agricultural production technology have helped farmers secure yield stability and quality in fruit and vegetable crops. However, the oversupply often causes a sharp fall in the prices of agricultural products, leaving farmers with nowhere to sell and a large number of fruits and vegetables to rot in the fields. In the end, they have to endure major crops and profit losses.
If agricultural crops, especially seasonal fruits, can be harvested steadily throughout the year, the prices of crops are estimated to be 2 to 4 times higher than that in the peak season. This not only is beneficial for exports but also ensures stable domestic market supply and a good balance between production and sales of crops. However, the high technical threshold for agricultural production in winter, coupled with the lack of labor, has led to insufficient agricultural production in the off-season when using traditional agricultural production methods.
While the importance of agriculture to the Taiwanese economy has declined from its heyday, Taiwan still has a reputation as a fruit kingdom. However, Taiwan’s farming areas are limited and scattered, making it difficult to compete with overseas farms with large-scale farming areas in terms of production costs. For this reason, the Taiwanese government has combined Taiwan's advantages in planting technology with the IT industry by introducing artificial intelligence (AI) technology to transform Taiwanese farms into standardized production and a competitive agribusiness in the global market.
Taiwan Establishes the Most Advanced Digital Farm in Asia with Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) Technology
Take dragon fruits as an example, the total dragon fruit farm areas in Taiwan have exceeded over 3,000 hectares. However, Taiwan’s output is far less than that of China and Vietnam. In addition, as the import of dragon fruit has also been increasing year by year, the prices of dragon fruit have been affected significantly in summer to approximately NT$30 (US$1.1) per kg which is not enough to cover the cost.
To solve the issue for dragon fruit farmers, the Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) of Taiwan, the promoter of smart applications and technologies, has joined forces with Pingtung county government and a Taiwanese communications company U-Sync Internet Service Co. (Taiwan) to establish a smart demo field in Dragon Digital Farm Co., Taiwan's largest dragon fruit farm. Pingtung country is Taiwan’s main dragon fruit production county as it plants 1/4 of the area of the county with dragon fruits.
Establishing a Digital Twin Model with Farming Data to Provide Standardized Farming Guidelines
U-Sync provides low-cost IoT sensors with a built-in SIM card and solar power supply features at a reasonable monthly fee. Farmers can easily adjust the location of the sensors based on the needs of their farms. This allows farmers to monitor the environmental information of the farms in real-time. If there is an abnormal value, a notification will be sent to remind the farmer to deal with it immediately. Thus, Farmers do not need to spend 2 hours on field patrols every night, thereby enhance the efficiency of farm management.
In addition, they also use data to identify the best sowing time in winter, and by integrating with the Taiwanese Agriculture Committee's planting log system to establish a digital twin model of dragon fruit. This allows farmers without any winter sowing experience to follow the instructions given by the digital twin model to grow dragon fruits stably in terms of yield and quality.
AI Controls the Light and Gives Instructions of the Retention or Removal of Flower Buds and Fruit Grading
To ensure the harvest of dragon fruits, a LoRa network sensor and base station are installed in the farms to collect farm data on a daily basis, such as air, the soil temperature and humidity, electrical conductivity, and illuminance, etc. In addition, the adoption of AI technology helps farmers calculate supplemental lighting time for dragon fruits during winter in Taiwan. At the same time, it can automatically adjust the light time and control the time interval for dragon fruits to grow buds to help farmers save about 20% of the electricity bill.
AI-Controlled LED Lights at farms to provide supplemental lighting
The supplemental lighting is key to the production season shifting from summer to winter. The daytime sunlight hours are always insufficient after the autumn equinox. Dragon fruits need longer hours of sunshine each day and the adoption of AI can be used to calculate the lighting time of LED lights to ensure that dragon fruits have sufficient sunlight.
To accurately estimate the yield and quality of dragon fruits, inappropriate flower buds must be removed to ensure that the size of the flower buds is similar. By wearing augmented reality (AR) smart glasses and combining AI technology, farmers are able to identify flower buds and calculate the size of each flower bud with up to 90% accuracy rate. This has helped farmers real-time identify which flower buds should be kept or removed, and meanwhile reminding farmers when they make mistakes to reduce the error rate by 20%.
Finally, during harvesting, farmers can use AI to identifying the maturity level of a dragon fruit skin from the green area, the smoothness of the skin, and the degree of damage before conducting a real-time smart fruit quality grading. The AI-powered glasses can successfully identify the flaws on the dragon fruits (such as cracks, insect bites, scabs, etc.) within one second with a recognition rate of 90%.
Dragon Digital Farm has introduced AI planting technology to delay the planting of dragon fruits from summer to winter. On top of that, it has cut into the global supply chain of Starbucks to supply with fresh fruit juice, and the annual sales are estimated at one million metric tons.
The digital twin model developed by U-Sync can help farmers who wish to transform their farms by growing dragon fruit in winter and do not want to spend 5-10 years to figure out how to. With this model, the company can quickly obtain winter-production technology and it is estimated that each hectare of farm can increase the income up to NT$600,000 (US$21,945.9).
AI Planting Has Been Successfully Used in a Demo Farm in Taiwan and the Planting Solution can Be Exported to Southeast Asia.
Under the joint efforts of the Smart City Taiwan Project initiated by the Industrial IDB of MoEA, and the Pingtung county government, the digital twin model for dragon fruits has been introduced into two Taiwanese farms. If this planting solution is adopted by more and more farms in Pingtung County, the output value of the farms will reach NT$300 million (US$11 million). Thereby enhancing the market competitiveness of agricultural products and providing sweet income for farmers.
The AI-based dragon fruit planting solution has also been exported to Indonesia and Malaysia, which implemented on 10 or 15 hectares of farms as a trial before expanding to 500 hectares.
Other than facilitating Taiwanese industry players to develop such an AI solution and promote transformation in agriculture, the Smart City Taiwan Project has cooperated with the local government to take the advantage of Taiwan’s high-tech capabilities to assist companies in obtaining local opportunities. More importantly, the solution has been implemented to develop innovative applications and solving local problems, especially related to people's daily life, including health, city governance, retail and tourism, agriculture, education, and mobility.
While bringing significant changes to the industry, Taiwan also strives to share the transformation experience with the world. "Taiwan Can Help!" is not only a slogan but also demonstrates our ambition to promote the development of smart cities domestically and internationally. At present, over 300 Taiwanese companies have participated in the Smart City Taiwan Project, which has incubated more than 220 smart services in Taiwan and has benefited over 8.54 million Taiwanese people.