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Seeding the future: How AI is transforming UK agriculture

As the global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, the agricultural sector is on the precipice of a transformative era, with artificial intelligence (AI) spearheading the revolution in plant breeding.

The urgency of this transformation is underscored by the fact that pests and diseases annually claim up to 40% of global crop yields, a challenge that is exacerbated by the relentless progression of climate change.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has quantified the economic impact of these losses at an alarming $220 billion annually. The changing climate patterns are accelerating the spread of pests, particularly in regions previously considered to be immune.

At this critical juncture, AI stands as a beacon of hope, merging genetic mapping with its predictive and decision-making capabilities.

This integration heralds a future where plant breeding is as precise as it is transformative, echoing the pharmaceutical industry's advancements in drug discovery.

Bayer, a titan in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, is at the vanguard of this new era. Their cutting-edge approach to plant breeding utilises the full spectrum of genomic sequencing and AI analysis, moving beyond traditional Mendelian methods to embrace the genome's complexity.

"Global protein production must double in the next 40 years to sustainably feed the planet. Computational modelling of crop genomes, alongside their interaction with diverse environments, will enable us to design a food system capable of nourishing the world for the century ahead," states Edward Buckler, a Research Geneticist with the USDA and Adjunct Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University.

AI's predictive models not only suggest but illuminate the path to new plant varieties that can withstand the whims of climate change and cater to the sophisticated demands of consumers. These bespoke seeds, developed at an unprecedented rate, are poised to bolster our food supply against nature's unpredictability, paving the way towards a sustainable future.

UK Farming Innovation Minister Steve Double remarked, "We want to help unlock greater potential in our already brilliant farming and horticulture sector. These innovative projects demonstrate how - with the right funding and support - there are great productivity and environmental sustainability gains to be made."


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