This Blue Chip Is Spending $300 Million on AI to Fight Weeds

Matthew Carr By Matthew Carr, Emerging Trends Strategist, The Oxford Club

Commodities

I’ve had enough.

The other day, I told my wife, “That’s it. I’m just going to firebomb it and salt the earth. I’ll make sure nothing ever grows there again.”

One of our garden beds out front has been a constant struggle. The overgrowth is spilling out onto the pavers and reaching up for the rails on the front porch.

It’s a situation we’ve all faced…

That frustrating, seemingly never-ending war against weeds and invasive plants.

In our case, it’s mint.

My wife and I have spent hours over the years pulling it. We’ve used chemicals and weed barriers… We’ve tried suffocating it… We’ve paid professionals…

But it keeps coming back… stronger every time.

The latest remedy I’ve come across is a mixture of salt, dish soap and vinegar.

But I think I may be beat.

I’ve decided that what might look best in that garden bed is stone. Lots and lots of large, heavy stones.

This may seem like nothing more than a “weekend warrior” project. But the battle against weeds and invasive species is a very real one. And it’s getting worse.

Just as more bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, more and more weed species are becoming resistant to herbicides.

The number of cases involving herbicide-resistant weeds in crops has exploded in recent decades…

Just within the last several weeks, there have been two cases in the U.S. The first was in California with an Italian ryegrass that infests alfalfa and orchards. The second was in Michigan with a ragweed that infests soybean fields.

And there are nearly 250 weed species that are herbicide-resistant.

The U.S. is infested with 160 of these species. That’s the most of any country in the world, and nearly 2.5 times more than Canada.

Wheat and corn have the largest number of species now resistant to herbicides, and soybeans have the fourth largest.

The U.S. is the world’s No. 1 producer of both corn and soybeans…

To protect these all-important crops, more than 1 billion pounds of herbicides are used every year in the U.S.

But the battle against weeds and invasive plant species isn’t just at the individual level. It’s at the industrial level as well.

A study by the Weed Science Society of America (not the medicinal kind of weed, but the bad kind) found that if farmers in the U.S. and Canada stopped using herbicides, the impact would be severe. Roughly half of soybean and corn crops – valued at about $43 billion per year – would be lost to weeds gone wild.

Fortunately, technology is beginning to take over the soul-crushing work of containing unwanted plant species.

Companies are now turning to automation and robotics to fight back against invasive plant species.

This is why in September, John Deere (NYSE: DE) paid $305 million for Blue River Technology.

Blue River’s primary focus is precision agriculture, using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Its “See & Spray” robot uses computer vision to monitor and precisely spray weeds on cotton plants.

The robot can cover eight to 12 rows at a time. It uses a massive library of plant images that enables it to identify both weeds and cotton plants. It doesn’t need spacing or color to make the distinction. It can instantly recognize the differences between them.

It’s this targeted spraying that helps prevent herbicide resistance. According to Blue River, the robot uses 80% fewer chemicals and reduces overall herbicide expenditures by 90%.

Blue River also developed “the Lettuce Bot,” which does planting and treating. The company has also built drones for field monitoring.

Over the last six decades, the number of farms and farmers in the U.S. has declined dramatically. It peaked at 6.8 million farms in 1935. Today, there are just over 2 million farms…

Yet farms more than doubled output between 1948 and 2015.

In other words, total farm productivity is increasing… all thanks to technology. And farms will need technology to continue to be more productive in the future.

They’ll also need help fighting the rise of herbicide-resistant weeds and infestations that threaten the country’s food supply…

Count this as yet another – if unexpected – way the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing our lives.

Keep this in mind as you invest in the commodities space.

Good investing,

Matthew