Ioannis Athanasiadis bio photo

Ioannis Athanasiadis

Professor of Artificial Intelligence
Wageningen University & Research

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Nitrogen management with reinforcement learning and crop growth models

M.G. Kallenberg, H. Overweg, R. van Bree, I.N. Athanasiadis


The growing need for agricultural products and the challenges posed by environmental and economic factors have created a demand for enhanced agricultural systems management. Machine learning has increasingly been leveraged to tackle agricultural optimization problems, and in particular, reinforcement learning (RL), a subfield of machine learning, seems a promising tool for data-driven discovery of future farm management policies. In this work, we present the development of CropGym, a Gymnasium environment, where a reinforcement learning agent can learn crop management policies using a variety of process-based crop growth models. As a use case, we report on the discovery of strategies for nitrogen application in winter wheat. An RL agent is trained to decide weekly on applying a discrete amount of nitrogen fertilizer, with the aim of achieving a balance between maximizing yield and minimizing environmental impact. Results show that close to optimal strategies are learned, competitive with standard practices set by domain experts. In addition, we evaluate, as an out-of-distribution test, whether the obtained policies are resilient against a change in climate conditions. We find that, when rainfall is sufficient, the RL agent remains close to the optimal policy. With CropGym, we aim to facilitate collaboration between the RL and agronomy communities to address the challenges of future agricultural decision-making.

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M.G. Kallenberg, H. Overweg, R. van Bree, I.N. Athanasiadis, Nitrogen management with reinforcement learning and crop growth models, Environmental Data Science, 2:e34, 2023, Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/eds.2023.28.

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