Robots Are Coming to Take Over Your Farms
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” so the saying goes. It’s certainly appropriate when referring to advancements made in agriculture technology. The lack of available farm labor alone has given rise to automated smart harvesters. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a recently published article, two University of Florida researchers say robots and information technology will be the rule and no longer the exception on farms in the coming years.
UF/IFAS professors Senthold Asseng and Frank Asche co-wrote the article published in the journal Science Robotics in which they wrote: “The farmers of the future are likely to be data scientists, programmers, and robot wranglers.”
For more than a century, the number of farmers has been trending down. There were 12 million people employed in agriculture in the U.S. in 1900. In 2014, there were 2 million, or 1.7% of total American employment, according to Our World in Data, an organization that monitors farm and land use.
“We have already become accustomed to the idea of autonomous machinery, like tractors navigating their way up and down a field,” Asseng points out.
More recent technological advances include robots and drones that can operate autonomously, collect large amounts of farm data, and carry out tasks on the field. The collected information can be used to optimize food production and resource use, the researchers say, resulting in higher yields with less fertilizer and pesticides.
Heavy machinery, used in place of higher labor costs, has compacted soil, leading to reduced root growth, lower soil fertility and eventually, less yield, the researchers point out. Replacing heavy machinery with autonomous light-weight robots and drones can overcome the soil compaction issue and make food production more sustainable.
Another advantage they cite from technological advances is food traceability. “The constant monitoring and collection of information from sensors in the field or from sensors attached to livestock will make it possible to trace a food product from farm to fork,” the researchers note.
All the components of the future farm already exist, including decision software for crop management. Asseng cites the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT), a software application program of growth simulation models for more than 40 crops. Several UF/IFAS scientists conduct research for DSSAT.
Asseng sees all these innovations benefiting farms and society overall. “It definitely opens up new opportunities for other jobs like developing and maintaining robots, drones, software, and more.”