Simulating Polyculture Farming to Learn Automation Policies for Plant Diversity and Precision Irrigation

Publication Date: October 3, 2022

Y. Avigal et al., “Simulating Polyculture Farming to Learn Automation Policies for Plant Diversity and Precision Irrigation,” in IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 1352-1364, July 2022, doi: 10.1109/TASE.2021.3138995.

Abstract Polyculture farming, where multiple crop species are grown simultaneously, has potential to reduce pesticide and water usage while improving the utilization of soil nutrients. However, it is much harder to automate polyculture than monoculture. To facilitate research, we present AlphaGardenSim, a fast, first order, open-access polyculture farming simulator with single plant growth and irrigation models tuned using real world measurements. AlphaGardenSim can be used for policy learning as it simulates inter-plant dynamics, including light and water competition between plants in close proximity and approximates growth in a real greenhouse garden at 25, $000\times $ the speed of natural growth. This paper extends earlier work with a new action space that includes planting, which dynamically finds new seed locations that increases resources utilization, and an adaptive sampling technique to reduce the number of actions taken at each timestep without affecting performance. We also evaluate other automation policies using a novel metric that combines plant diversity and canopy coverage. Code and supplementary material can be found at . Note to Practitioners —Monoculture farming is often characterized by heavy agrichemical inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and increased vulnerability to disease and pestilence. This paper is motivated by the lack of long-term sustainability of industrial agriculture, and its implications for human food security. Although polyculture is a sustainable alternative to monoculture farming, it requires more human labor and is more challenging to automate. In this paper we propose a fast, first order simulator that simulates the growth of plants in a polyculture setting. Simulation experiments suggest that the simulator can be used to learn a planting, watering and pruning plan a robot can follow to produce maximal yield from a diverse set of plants with limited irrigation, however it has not yet been tested on a physical garden. In future research we will develop a fully automated controller that will operate planting, irrigation and pruning tools in a physical garden over multiple plant growth cycles.