The Role of Robotics in Agriculture

By Matanat Rashid

Thu, 27 Sep 2018

The food production sector in the United States presents its challenges and its acute financial reality is forcing the country to embrace a new mindset. Robotics, with its AI technology, is pervading every walk of life. While many farmers are growing, monitoring, and harvesting through artificial intelligence, robotics still remain an underused, limited innovation. There are two fundamental reasons why the integration of robots in agriculture is complicated. Firstly, there are only a few farmers who really understand the dynamics of how this technology works. Secondly, there is an increasing concern among the farming community around how the introduction of robotics would not only be disruptive but would also limit job opportunities.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) is trying its best to convince farmers that robotics is helpful, innovative, and would bring more specialised jobs. Various Ag tech giants have conducted several workshops where they tried to foster the community about the advantages of robots in the field. Speaking to a gathering of hundreds of farmers in California, Neil Showman, a veteran organic farmer emphasised how he integrated this technology without firing a single farmer working on his farm. He stated, “I maintained a stubborn stance against the agricultural advancements for as long as I could, but I realised sooner that my revolt was only harming my ambitions instead of benefiting them.”

Growers are aware that farm labour is a daunting task. From sowing the seeds to finally harvesting the crops, there is a lot of work that goes into the process. Integrating robotics would provide a better work frame all around. These robots would yield better results, but they would still be reliant on the benefits of humans. As per Alpha Brown, harvesting robots are stealing the spotlight among many types of robots. Twenty-seven percent of the 1,300 growers surveyed for Alpha Brown’s report, Agriculture Robotics Harvesting Solutions: Early Adopter Market Potential, said that they are considering purchasing a robotic machine to help with harvesting. Thirteen percent of the growers said they would invest in robotics so to offset the cost of labour.

Harvesting Robotics for different Crops:

Greenhouse:

The greenhouse sector has managed to pull the keenest interest in harvesting robotics among all the crops. 34 percent of the growers have made their mind to invest in them. Robots could be utilised to their fullest in greenhouses as they provide stable and tailormade conditions for robotics machinery. What’s more, greenhouses do not operate on a seasonal basis which leads to a higher number of permanent employees and a substantial likelihood of a robotic harvester being used throughout the year. Size of operations has put off 66 percent of the growers to invest in robotics as they think their farms are small enough to be managed by human harvesters.

Vegetables:

30 percent of the vegetable growers have demonstrated their interest in investing in harvesting robots. It’s slightly more compared to the average (27%). A key reason is that vegetable growers maintain a steadier workforce than other field crops, with 40% of vegetable farms having permanent employees. Application of robotics would not only cut the labour cost, but it will also enhance the quality of the harvest.

Fruits:

27 percent of the fruit growers who have shown interest in this technology believe that fruit-specific harvesting solutions could help in picking the best fruit without harming it. Fruits are among the most delicate produce, and therefore it is necessary that they remain attractive and blemish-free all the way to the grocery floor. The introduction of robotics in fruit crops could make it possible.

Different Types of Robots:

  • Weed Destroyer: Bosch, the German manufacturers have invented a robot capable of killing 120 weeds/minute, which is significantly faster than any human or herbicide.
  • Fruit Picker: Abundant Robotics Inc, a start-up has developed robots that would pick apples only when they are ripe. The software enables the bot to identify and pick apples without damaging the fruit or the tree.
  • Lettuce Bot: Blue River, a California based start-up introduced a device which farmers can attach to their tractors. It would help the farmers in detecting/killing insects and weeds by spraying pesticides only on the affected area of the field.
  • Prospera Bots: The latest robotic system, Prospera, utilise the camera and sensors to alarm the grower when their crops are sick. The app allows farmers to rectify the issue before it’s too late.
  • Hornet Bot: The robotics start-up Agribotix created a flying bot which captures aerial photos and videos of fields from above and analyses crop health using infrared sensors. It works through an app and alerts the farmers as soon as it detects an issue on any particular part of the field.

Robotics in agriculture is undoubtedly in an immature stage right now. There is a justified uncertainty regarding the ROI in this technology. However, various start-ups across the USA are already successfully exploring the benefits offered by robotics. Companies like Agworld and AMVAC are continuously emphasizing the need for modern farming to meet the demands and requirements of food production.

Our Agriculture 4.0 workshop mission is to help farmers better engage with the latest technology available in the market and present a wide range of solutions for the modern farmer.

AG 4.0, is a unique opportunity for individuals to learn, discover and network amongst each other for precise and profitable resolutions across the entire industry.

Among our central panels will be, ‘Precision Ag: Analysing Trends & Challenges’, and ‘ROI in Precision Ag’, which aim to help demonstrate how agtech is helping farmers deal with labor shocks and challenges.

Our speakers focus on bridging the gap between farmer and agtech companies, and this informs the theme of our agenda.

Speakers such as Matt Powell (Agworld) and Rick Rice (Amvac) are both experts in this field, and their participation reflects our joint commitment to this mission.

Matt Powell: “Events like Challenge Advisory’s Ag 4.0 Modernizing US Agriculture workshops are critical to the continued race to help primary producers grow the food we need to feed a rapidly exploding population and middle class around the world. This is because technology has been and will continue to be the driving force behind that growth. I’m especially excited to see the depth of exploration into digital technologies and interoperability at this event because I believe we are already seeing that digital platforms like Agworld will play a critical role in increasing the sustainability and profitability of food production while reducing risk throughout the value chain”

Join Challenge Advisory and all our stakeholders for education, interoperability and investment relating to the latest technology in digital agriculture – click here to find out more:

www.challenge.org/ag40


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Matanat Rashid

matanat59@gmail.com

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