Farms of the Future

The UN predicts that the world population will be 9.7 billion by 2050! The answer to feeding this dramatic number of mouths may be robotic farming — set to improve production efficiency, while reducing resources required… but are we ready for such a gamble into the unknown? Entrusting machines with our survival. Let’s explore robotic farming, from drones to robotic milking systems.

My interview with Samuel Bennett from Nottingham University studying agriculture provided an insight into the industry, stating that “in general there seems to be a positive attitude towards it all but there is a long way to go with some of the technologies.”

Will the technology lead to major job losses?

  Sam stated that, “technology brings in an element of uncertainty. There will always be a need for workers to move robots from field to field, farm to farm and so I do not see robots taking over anytime soon. Also, robotic milking systems are brilliant, saving so much time for the farmer as the systems can automatically milk the cows on a schedule. There will be job losses for milkers but jobs created to analyse the data.” So, it seems that there will be not be a significant loss of jobs and with the efficiency gains, surely adopting the technology is a no brainer!

Patches O’Hullahan a farmer from Lincolnshire suggests that job losses are not an issue as average working farms of 1000 acres can be maintained by only 2 people and some fertiliser spray. Drones can be used to help with fertilising but this is only a small part of the process. This alludes to the fact that no matter how advanced technology gets there will always be a need for people to inspect for disease, injury and machine failure.

However, Sam then goes on to say “your standard dairy farmer would struggle to afford  converting to the robotic milking system as the equipment is expensive”, could this lead to more dairy farmers being squeezed out of the market?

Gareth Wyn Jones’s documentary on BBC iPlayer shows the real crisis facing dairy milk farmers with the number of farmers in the last 15 years being halved. Technology advancements have allowed farmers to scale up massively, take Müller who pump out 1 million cartons per day! So, the intensely competitive industry is under threat and efficiency seeking is extremely important.

The prospect of using drones for farming could potentially bring a completely new dimension to farming, do you agree?

Sam claims that “it’s certainly interesting, but I don’t think everyone is convinced as if you can’t analyse the data from the drone it’s not really worth it or if it takes too long to download the images.”

Oscar Miller who is studying agri-business management at Newcastle University reaffirms this, “the high initial capital investment, combined with the high maintenance costs for drones is not yet justifiable; due to the lack of coordination between the drones to allow for optimal efficiency in a large scale commercial farming setting.

It is fair to say that the idea of drones in farming is pretty cool but it seems there is more to be done until this technology becomes a viable option. Another area of concern that Pablo Gonzalez de Santos acknowledges is safety “robots have to be capable of detecting what is going on in their surroundings and act accordingly to protect humans, wildlife, and themselves from crashes and accidents”.

Link to Gareth Wyn Jones’s documentary:

 By Kieran Savage 

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