robotic farming

            The idea of robotic farming has been more science fiction than fact the last decade or so.
            There has been a vision among those in the industry which foresaw the day of equipment crawling across fields without an operator in the ‘tractor seat’, but the arrival and spread of such tech has been slower in arriving than I had personally expected.
            Now my expectation may have been fuelled by decades of reading science fiction books, and watching sci-fi TV and movies as a preferred genre, but I also thought the idea of robotic tractors made sense.
            Two factors in farming in recent years have been the increasing size of farms in terms of acres to cover, and the challenge of finding affordable staff with the skill set to operate field equipment worth a half million dollars or more.
            The two challenges for farmers are of course not unrelated.
            There has been a decades-long trend of farm size growth, and that seems unlikely to change without something truly dramatic happening.
            But there is a limit to how large a tractor can reasonably be, or how wide an air seeder unit can be, and we seem to be flirting with the maximums already.
            So what is the future?
            It would seem logical that smaller units might return to the norm. Even from a company perspective you would sell more units per year, and the maintenance work spreads over more machines as well.
            That won’t happen if the units require someone sitting in the seat driving them around the field. The issue of finding qualified operators at a cost that suits a farm’s operating budget is simply a barrier.
            But turn the power unit into an autonomous robot which traverses a field based on global positioning technology and you have a viable option. That the unit will be able to run 24/7 weather permitting, with the only stoppage being for fuel and service translates into significant acres covered even if units are scaled back from the mega tractors and cultivators in use today.
            Farmers are now aware of the potential of robotic control, combines and grain carts have been married by such tech for a few years now, and that is just one current example of autonomous operation.
            That the growth of farm field robotics is the future of farming moving forward the next decade or two. The future of modern farming will be robotic power units at work hour after hour.
            And to think it was within the memory of many still alive when farming relied on the power of the horse.

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