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Why HPC Matters: Feeding the Planet

Agriculture increasingly benefits from high-performance computing resources running machine learning algorithms and data analytics tools.

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Dell EMC

Could high-performance computing (HPC) help feed the planet? The European Commission thinks so.

In a recent article, the Commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union, noted that HPC is one of the keys to increased agriculture production. The Commission said that HPC is becoming critical in agricultural activity, plague control, pesticides design and pesticides effects.1 For example, it notes that HPC enables numerical simulations of plant growth that help seed companies achieve superior varieties, without doing costly field trials that can harm the environment.

In the United States, the people at AeroFarms could add examples of their own. The New Jersey-based company, which is a world leader in indoor vertical farming and sustainable agriculture, is on a mission to transform agriculture. It wants to show the world how to feed an ever-growing global population in a time of disappearing farmland and increasing demands for water and other natural resources. AeroFarms demonstrates just this by growing high-quality, nutritious leafy greens and herbs without sunlight, soil or pesticides.

At the company’s production sites, all growing, harvesting and packaging operations take place in a tightly controlled indoor environment that is optimized with data-driven insights. On the backend, AeroFarms uses a local server cluster and machine learning techniques to continually analyze and update its anomaly detection algorithm, which runs on edge gateways in its production facilities.

“By U.N. estimates, we need to produce 50 percent more food by 2050, and we’ve lost 30 percent of our arable farm land in the last 40 years,” notes AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg. “Looking at all those macro-issues, we need a new way to feed our planet.”2

Ever heard of “precision agriculture”? Or how about “agricultural cloud computing”? Or “smart farming”? These are all part of a new way to feed the planet. As terms like these suggest, agriculture is becoming increasingly driven by data, artificial intelligence and HPC.

A few examples:

  • An Intel article highlights the case of a farmer who saved his corn crop from grasshoppers by using artificial intelligence to detect a swarm of grasshoppers in an unexpected parcel of his field.3
  • Agricultural researchers at Ohio State University use computational fluid dynamics to model processes like air flow in chicken coops and the application of pesticides sprayed on orchards.4
  • Researchers at Clemson University are using a supercomputer to identify valuable traits, such as disease resistance, in the genetic material of plants.5

This is the type of research that could help farmers increase yields and operate more efficiently, and it’s only possible with the power of HPC, AI and other advanced technologies. As an Intel article notes, “From detecting pests to predicting what crops will deliver the best returns, artificial intelligence can help humanity confront one of its biggest challenges: feeding an additional 2 billion people by 2050,6 even as climate change disrupts growing seasons, turns arable land into deserts, and floods once-fertile deltas with seawater.”7

Ultimately, to feed billions of additional people we are going to need more efficient approaches to food production and smarter, data-driven agricultural operations that leverage the power of technology to help producers squeeze more food out of a limited amount of land.

And that is yet another reason why HPC matters.

To learn more about AeroFarms and its work to transform the world of agriculture, read the case study “Harvesting Insights: Indoor vertical farm uses data-driven insights from IoT deployment to increase yields, conserve resources and improve flavor.”

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Making a difference with HPC

High performance computing touches virtually every aspect of our lives. HPC is making weather forecasts more accurate, cancer therapies more precise, fraud protection more foolproof and products more efficient. In this series of articles, we explore these and other use cases that capitalize on HPC and its convergence with data analytics to illustrate why HPC matters to all of us.

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1 European Union, “High Performance Computing for increased agriculture production,” Jan. 5, 2018.

2 Dell EMC customer case study, “Harvesting Insights: Indoor vertical farm uses data-driven insights from IoT deployment to increase yields, conserve resources and improve flavor,” 2018.

3 Intel, “Intel-Powered AI Helps Optimize Crop Yields,” accessed February 26, 2018.

4 Ohio Technology Consortium, “Ohio State agriculture group improves farming through HPC at OSC,” February 9, 2018.

5 Clemson University, “Supercomputer speeds up genetics research at Clemson,” March 11, 2015.

6 United Nations, “World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050,” July 29, 2015.

7 Intel, “Intel-powered AI helps optimize crop yields,” accessed Feb. 27, 2018