How will artificial intelligence transform food systems in the coming years? What are some of the applications of artificial intelligence for our work in agriculture at the University of Florida (UF)? How can we use artificial intelligence to help smallholder farmers around the world? These are just a few of the questions asked and answered at the Future of Food Forum 2023: Transforming food systems with artificial intelligence, hosted by the Global Food Systems Institute (GFSI) at the University of Florida Reitz Union Grand Ballroom on March 20, 2023. The Future of Food Forum 2023 brought together over 150 academics, students, business leaders and farmers and leveraging artificial intelligence to strengthen food systems.
In his welcome address, Dr. Gbola Adesogan, Director of the Global Food Systems Institute set the stage for the day, and discussed the global challenges facing food systems. “We have all these challenges going on in the world and AI is a way to develop solutions to the challenges. That is what we’re here to talk about today,” he said.
Dr. Scott Angle, Senior Vice President of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), discussed the importance of AI not just for the University of Florida, but for the world. “We needed to make sure that AI was incorporated into all disciplines,” he said. “We need to make sure that people have food not just to fuel their bodies, but also food that promotes health. We spend 11 trillion dollars to cure diseases and problems caused by poor nutrition. AI is one way to solve these problems,” he said.
Dr. Rafael Muñoz-Carpena, Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF, served as facilitator for the morning sessions of the forum and welcomed all participants and speakers. The sessions began with an introduction from GFSI faculty member Dr. Charlie Li, Professor of Agricultural AI and Automation in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida. Dr. Li provided a brief overview of AI to the audience, defining AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” (McCarthy, 1955).
The keynote speaker, Stewart Collis, Senior Program Leader, Digital Solutions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) presented on how the Foundation is leveraging AI to help smallholder farmers. “Nutritious food systems, women’s empowerment, and global policy and advocacy are important parts of what we do. We work with partners to ensure we meet the changing problems of climate change and assist in long-term solutions in the global rural community,” he said.
The first panel of the day on “How can AI assist us in creating crisis-proof, climate-friendly food systems?” was moderated by Dr. Kati Migliaccio, Chair and Professor of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF. The panel included global experts on AI in agriculture such as Dr. Michael Selvaraj, Crop Physiologist and Leader of Phenomics Platform at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, Dr. Charlie Messina, Professor, Horticultural Sciences Department at UF and Dr. Karen Garrett, Professor, Plant Pathology Department at UF. The panelists discussed the biggest challenges in creating crisis-proof food systems, such as the need for capacity development and anticipating crises, as well as the importance of public-private partnerships.
The second session, “From “cloud” to earth: how AI will revolutionize the future of agriculture” covered topics such how to increase access to AI for smallholder farmers around the world, and how to use AI to better listen to farmers and help make farmers voices heard. This session was moderated by Dr. Damian Adams, Associate Dean for Research, UF IFAS. Panelists included Dr. Kommy Weldemariam, Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect in Discovery Science & Applications at IBM Research, Dr. Jawoo Koo, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Dr. Raquel Dias, Assistant Professor in the Microbiology & Cell Science Department at UF. The panelists also discussed using AI to help consumers make better decisions, helping people make choices for more biodiversity, and how AI can be used to improve adaptability to climate change.
After lunch, Afternoon Session Facilitator Dr. Dina Liebowitz, Program Director of Plant Science at UF, welcomed back all participants and announced the first afternoon panel, “How can AI assist with enhancing productivity and sustainability of food systems?” This panel, moderated by Dr. Felicia Wu, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University, introduced participants to many of the novel uses for AI in agriculture. Speaker Van Whitehurst of Whitehurst, Cattle Company described how he herds cattle with drones and uses facial recognition technology to count cows. Dr. Michael Ferrari, Chief Scientific & Commercial Officer at Climate Alpha and speaker on the panel discussed digital agriculture opportunities for climate, water and food security. “The future of food is now. We are rapidly approaching 8 billion lives to feed. The best-case scenario is no longer possible,” he said. “How do we get the right amount of calories and right amount of nutrients to feed the mouths that need to be fed?”
The last panel of the day, “How can AI improve collaboration for global food systems?” was moderated by Dr. Norma Samuel, Central District Extension Director, UF-IFAS Extension. Dr. Ziwen Yu, Assistant Professor of Big Data Analytics in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at UF, opened the session with his presentation “How does AI connect and expand the agriculture industry? – A circular economy enabled by the value chain of data,” followed by a ted-talk style presentation by Dr. Max Teplitski, Chief Science Officer of the International Fresh Produce Association. The session ended with an engaging presentation from Winnie Onyango and Edward Amoah of PlantVillage, an organization helping smallholder farmers in Africa adapt to climate change. The organization has created PlantVillage Nuru: an AI for smallholder farmers in Africa that allows them to detect plant diseases, which can be very useful in areas with limited extension services and can be used offline, on mobile phones, even without an internet connection. They are also using AI to improve nutrition in schools through technology that quantifies the nutritional value of food from pictures. “It takes a village to change the world,” Onyango said. “I hope we are all inspired to go out and do better in the world, I know that I am,” said Amoah, commenting on the inspiring lineup of speakers throughout the day.
After the final panel, GFSI hosted a poster session where students and faculty presented on their research, and students of Dr. Liebowitz held a taste-testing of new varieties of broccoli leaves grown at UF. Dr. Jack Rechcigl, Center Director and Professor of Soil and Water Science at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm and Plant City and Center Director for Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, gave the final presentation for the day, moderated by Dr. Andrew Ogram, Associate Director of GFSI. Dr. Rechcigl presented on the Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, showing a video of the AI technologies for identifying weeds that can help reduce herbicide use by 90%.
The Future of Food Forum closed with the award ceremony for the 2023 UF|IFAS International Awards, presented by Dr. Elaine Turner, Dean for the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Dr. Robert Gilbert, UF/IFAS Dean for Research and Director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station; and Dr. Norma Samuel, Central District Extension Director, UF-IFAS Extension. Dr. Greg MacDonald, Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator, Weed Science and International Agronomy served as Master of Ceremonies. For more information on the 2023 UF|IFAS International Awards and awardees, please visit: https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/gfsi/2023/06/16/ufifas-international-awards-2023/
Many thanks to the facilitators, moderators, speakers, student volunteers, and all participants who made the Future of Food Forum 2023 such a successful event. The theme of the 2024 Future of Food Forum will be Resilient Food Systems.
For more information on the Future of Food Forum 2023 please visit our event website: https://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/foodforum/
To view the Future of Food Forum 2023 Photo Gallery, please click here: https://universityoffloridaifasphotography.zenfolio.com/p332565955#h5ddaaf3c