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Unraveling the mysteries of artificial intelligence

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Drones, cameras, robots, sensors, and assorted gizmos, as well as complex algorithms, are covering the produce supply chain like a comfortable blanket, making it easier for operators to zoom in on profitability and monitor product quality.

It turns out, artificial intelligence (AI) is making the entire industry smarter and more efficient, according to suppliers and marketers.

“There are several different ways AI is impacting the way industry professionals do business, and this will continue to change rapidly over the next few years,” shares Thuan Ngo, vice president of data and technical services with San Jose, CA-based IT consultancy ZAG Technical Services, Inc. BB #:365534

Although AI tools aren’t omnipresent across the industry yet, they’re popping up in both big and small operations.

“We’ll be using it as we buy automation equipment for grading,” says Paul Pappas, president of wholesaler Pete Pappas & Sons, Inc. BB #:100956 in Jessup, MD. He says AI is good for identifying defects. “I definitely see strong use there.”

Further, he sees growers flocking to AI tools to supercharge their own expertise. “They’ll be using drones to scout fields and AI to report back on issues in the fields with disease, pests, and so forth.”

Across the production system, AI is becoming a means to control essential processes—from planting to crop maintenance to harvesting, packing, storage, and sales.

For G&R Farms, BB #:114342 in Glennville, GA, AI is already part of its packing and shipping operations.

“We’ve been using AI in the packinghouses for years at a quality and sizing level,” shares Steven Shuman, sales manager. “The more advanced the technology gets, the more advanced the quality and outcomes.

“We added a state-of-the-art packing line this past spring and continue to look at more ways to add automation to our systems,” he adds. “Nothing is off the table if it aids in our efficiency and quality.”

When it comes to other uses, Shuman says, “We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on all the ways we can use AI in our administration levels, with remote process automation and better business intelligence.”

But there are skeptics. “To begin with, it’s got to be a ‘buyer beware’ thing—to be sure the data is correct before trusting it 100 percent,” warns Pappas. “Validation is going to be important.”

Despite concerns, Pappas says AI is winning more support across the industry and beyond. “In areas that aren’t specific to our industry, I see people using it in their marketing programs and employing it instead of hiring marketing experts,” he says.

Ngo interjects that AI is ideal to simplify processes. He says system integrators or operators, who develop scripts for dashboard systems, can now rely on AI systems such as ChatGPT or Github CoPilot to quickly develop their scripts.

He also notes that business intelligence and reporting can benefit from existing systems and apps, like spreadsheets with AI functionality, such as Microsoft’s 365 Copilot, to quickly find answers hidden in large data tables with a simple set of questions. Ngo says this alleviates the need to learn complex formulas or write program-specific queries.

“Large language model systems can also be used to quickly find how-to methods,” he adds. “Time savings can shrink effort from what used to be a couple of days down to hours.”

This is an excerpt from the Applied Technology feature in the November/December 2023 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.