University of Minnesota to study AI for climate change, farming practices

The University of Minnesota. (FOX 9)

With a rise in the popularity and usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) services such as ChatGPT, the University of Minnesota (U of M) has announced it will utilize a $20 million grant to study how the technology could bolster climate change studies and farming activities.

The U of M announced it will receive a $20 million grant over five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to lead the new National Artificial Intelligence Research Institute for "climate-land interactions, mitigation, adaptation, tradeoffs and economy" – collectively known as AI-CLIMATE.

The goal of the program will be to, "Leverage AI to create more climate-smart practices that will absorb and store carbon, while simultaneously boosting the economy in the agriculture and forestry industries."

AI-CLIMATE will bring together scientists and engineers from across the country, including national experts on AI and climate-smart agriculture and forestry from Cornell University, Colorado State University, Delaware State University, Purdue University and North Carolina State University. Researchers will also collaborate with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).

"One of the driving factors of climate effects is carbon emissions," Shashi Shekhar, director of the institute and a professor in the College of Science and Engineering said in a statement. "When farmers touch, smell and look at the soil, they can tell if it’s carbon rich or not. But they can’t manually survey thousands of acres of land every year. We’re developing easy-to-use tools where we can show all of these measurements and images of the soil to an AI neural network and let it figure it out for us, saving farmers and foresters time, energy and money."

The AI-CLIMATE institute is one of seven new NSF and NIFA-funded AI Institutes announced Thursday — part of a federal initiative totaling nearly half a billion dollars to bolster collaborative research across the country.

In 2022, the USDA announced it would be investing $3.1 billion to support farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners through its Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities project.

"Foundational research in AI and machine learning has never been more critical to the understanding, creation and deployment of AI-powered systems that deliver transformative solutions across our society," said Margaret Martonosi, NSF assistant director for computer and information science and engineering in a statement. "These recent awards, as well as our AI Institutes ecosystem as a whole represent our active efforts in addressing national economic and social priorities that hinge on our nation’s AI capability and leadership."