SAS honors its roots with new agricultural technology unit and NC State University plant sciences partnership

Harnessing the power of AI and analytics to help secure a safe and sustainable food supply for a growing world population 

To feed a world population approaching 10 billion by 2050, global food production must become more efficient. Ongoing advances in agricultural research and farm management practices are helping improve food production, but the advent of artificial intelligence and advanced analytics could hold the key to agriculture’s future. SAS is forging a new agricultural technology business unit to help growers and agribusiness leaders turn an exploding amount of farm and agricultural data into insights that inform safe and secure food production. SAS is also enhancing agricultural research and talent development through its support of the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative at North Carolina State University (NC State).  

SAS was born at NC State, where the company’s first project was analyzing crop yield data. Recent estimates suggest there will be more than 4 million data points generated each day by individual farms by 2050.

“Our company’s heritage uniquely positions SAS to address these challenges,” said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight. “We’re at a critical point in human history where the threat of widespread hunger is more real than ever. We have the opportunity to help farmers be more productive through the power of AI and analytics and get more food from fields to tables around the world.”

As a global leader in accelerating plant science innovation and talent development, the NC Plant Sciences Initiative at NC State convenes experts from academia, government and industry to drive vital cross-disciplinary research that increases crop yields, creates new varieties, extends growing seasons, enhances sustainability, and produces new and improved technology.

As part of its support, SAS will embed full-time data scientists within the NC Plant Sciences Initiative to collaborate on various research efforts. The SAS Global Academic Program is also developing resources to help create the next crop of agricultural analytics experts.

“NC State is proud to have SAS partner in the NC Plant Sciences Initiative, a critical effort to keep the university at the forefront of plant science research and education, and to keep North Carolina agriculture competitive in a global market,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson. “SAS’ support will help secure NC State as a global leader in agriculture-related data and analytics that will help growers make data-driven decisions and more efficiently and effectively feed a growing world population.”

“The NC Plant Sciences Initiative will enhance plant breeding and genetics, improve farm production practices, and advance the development and integration of precision agriculture techniques and technologies like drones, sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Richard Linton. “One of the initiative’s biggest challenges is our ability to collect and translate large amounts of complex data into useful information that can help researchers and farmers make better informed, real-time decisions. This new partnership with SAS will be pivotal in helping us harness the power of data to improve agricultural outcomes and provide global consumers a higher quality, more accessible food supply.”

Education and training are cornerstones of the company’s recently announced $1 billion AI investment. SAS collaborates with higher education institutions and offers free and low-cost software and programs to build the current and future generations of analytics talent.

SAS AgTech industry team to cultivate insights across agricultural landscape

There is great potential for the use of AI and analytics in agriculture to improve plant health, soil productivity and crop yields. Real-time monitoring of animal sounds to detect distress and even new image recognition technology help enhance animal health. Connected farm devices enable automated decision support for growers, but also require protection of farm data.

Growers are grappling with a bumper crop of data and it will only increase. More and more, that data will come from IoT devices that collect information on topography, soil quality, weather and livestock feed as well as images from crops such as sweet potatoes. Drones and smart tractors are becoming more common and generate useful data on crop yield and land surveys.

To meet the needs of growers, agronomists and others that make up the broad agribusiness spectrum, SAS will establish the new AgTech business unit with leaders from a variety of disciplines, both internally and externally, and through strategic partnerships like the one with NC State.

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There is great potential for the use of AI and analytics in agriculture to improve plant health, soil productivity and crop yields.