Should AI-Enabled Farm Technology Get the Green Light? Assessing the Risk

All eyes are on artificial intelligence when it comes to the evolution of agriculture. As operations invest in this smart technology to automate and streamline their operations, it’s critical for farmers and lenders to be aware of the risks of adopting network-enabled tools to safeguard investments and the operation.

On one hand, machine farming, precision ag and other AI farming technologies are deployed specifically to reduce an operator’s exposure to risk. Real-time data on soil and crop conditions enables producers to make timely and targeted applications of pesticides, weed control and water.

AI in agriculture has the potential to enhance operational productivity and efficiency, improving an operation’s profitability and resilience:

  • Reduced error
  • Better yields
  • Enhanced crop resilience
  • Reduced expense of labor and inputs
  • Better compliance to environmental regulations, such as reduced chemical runoff
  • Improved soil health

However, AI technologies are not without the potential for risk. Because these devices are controlled through cloud computing and networks, they’re vulnerable to attack. Precision ag devices are underpinned by three primary types of technology:

  • Hardware: This encompasses the physical devices themselves, such as soil probes, self-driving tractors, drones and computer tablets.
  • Software: The brains of the operation, software plays a crucial role in monitoring and analyzing data, enabling the generation of real-time recommendations and actions.
  • Information Technology (IT): This refers to the network responsible for transmitting data collected from the field to the appropriate destinations.

Are farmers vulnerable to cyberattacks?

Cybersecurity experts say compared to other sectors, the agriculture realm has been slow to respond to addressing cyberthreats, with a lack of information sharing, preparedness and government programs.1

Known cyberattacks in agriculture have thus far targeted primarily larger cooperatives and companies (JBS2 and Dole3), often carried out by the Russians seeking multi-million dollar payouts through ransomware.

Farms are unlikely targets of ransomware. But as precision ag tools gain widespread use, the “attack space” available to hackers and cybercriminals expands, as the Department of Homeland Security warned in 2018.4 Hackers can exploit these technologies to block or manipulate the controls of network-run devices. Cybercriminals could potentially manipulate data collected by soil sensors, for example, causing farmers to unwittingly overwater or overfertilize their crops. Or interference with software-controlled feeding, heating or water systems could cause animal death.

How can lenders and producers address cybersecurity?

When extending loans for precision agriculture and network-enabled devices, lenders can be influential in helping producers become aware of the operational risks of using smart devices and how to reduce the occurrence or impact of a cyberattack.

Convey the risk: Urge farmers to be aware of the vulnerabilities. Most attacks involving internet of things (IoT) originate in the cloud. With 241 ag-centric AI startups in the U.S.5, producers would be well-advised to do their due diligence before they buy and connect.

Adopt best practices: Financial institutions can share their subject matter expertise in cybersecurity practices with farmers. Promote best practices, like using strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, updating software and firmware, and training all users and employees to recognize and respond to potential threats.

Get coverage: Some 40% of U.S. businesses targeted by cyberattack sustain losses of $25,000 or more.6 Cyber liability insurance for the farm can mitigate the financial impact of a cyberattack.

Grow your lending power with Agri-Access

As a secondary lender, the value of a partnership with Agri-Access extends beyond the capital we offer to reduce your risk. We bolster your lending services with fast answers from Scorecard, along with our full suite of leasing services, all designed specifically for agriculture. Our risk management process is where we provide exceptional value to our lending partners. Our specialty is ag financing, so you get the depth and expertise you seek when making your lending decisions.

Learn about our participation loan offerings, and reach out to a relationship manager any time to get started.


    1. The Conversation | Rise of precision agriculture exposes food system to new threats
    2. Reuters | Meatpacker JBS says it paid equivalent of $11 mln in ransomware attack
    3. The Record | Dole, Pepsi bottler issue more info on recent cyberattacks
    4. Department of Homeland Security | Threats to Food and Agriculture Resources
    5. Tracxn | AI in Agriculture Startups in United States
    6. Get Astra | The Staggering Cost of Cyberattacks: How Much Money do Businesses Actually Lose?

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