The development of agriculture was a turning point for humanity. Humans’ ability to engineer the environment to produce enough food to sustain massive population growth was the first significant change in the relationship between fully-modern humans and the environment. The advent of agriculture triggered a wider range of advancements, from growing crops, fire, and cooked food to self-driving machinery.
With a global population projection of 9.7 billion people by 2050, agricultural production must increase by at least 70% from current levels to serve nutritional trends.
Agriculture has moved us forward for 12,000 years, but we are now at a turning point. With a global population projection of 9.7 billion people by 2050, agricultural production must increase by at least 70% from current levels to serve nutritional trends. The pressure on the agriculture industry to produce more nutritious products is putting more pressure on the health of our planet than ever before.
New technological advancements in modern farming, ranging from robotics and agricultural drones to computer vision software, have entirely transformed modern agriculture. Farmers now have access to tools that will help them meet the demands of our world’s ever-increasing population.
What is automated farming?
Often associated with “smart farming,” automated farming uses various technological devices to improve and automate agriculture operations and the crop or livestock production cycle, making farms more efficient.
Many agriculture technology companies are now working on robotics innovation to develop drone operations, autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, automatic watering and seeding robots. Although these technologies are relatively new, the agricultural sector has seen an increasing number of traditional agriculture companies adopt farm automation into their processes.
What technologies does automated farming use?
The main goal of agriculture technology companies is to implement smart technologies to cover mundane tasks. Some of the most popular technologies implemented in farms are:
Harvesting fruits and vegetables has always been challenging for agriculture automation. Harvesting robots must handle the products gently to avoid bruising and damage.
AgTech companies such as Agrobot, which developed the first robot to pick strawberries gently, and Abundant Robotics, the world’s first commercial robotic apple picker, are examples of many AgTech companies working to transform the agricultural industry.
Producers can control their autonomous tractors remotely or pre-program them to have complete autonomy. Rabbit Tractor developed an autonomous tractor that reduces labor costs for row farmers, increases the efficiency of all operations, and helps increase yields.
Another company, Bear Flag Robotics, is developing tractor automation kits to make automation more accessible for farmers by retrofitting existing tractors with cutting-edge driverless technology and implementing control.
Seeding and Weeding
Robotics designed for seeding and weeding can target specific crop areas; in seeding, it can reduce labor and farming mundane tasks, whereas weeding robotics can reduce pesticide usage by 90% with computer vision.
Blue River Technology is a company that employs computer vision and robotics technologies to spray herbicides only where needed, and precisely the amount required, enabling farmers a new way to control and prevent herbicide-resistant weeds.
Agricultural drones can remotely monitor conditions and apply fertilizers, pesticides, and other treatments from above. Imagery and infrared analysis can also identify problem areas quickly, helping farmers diagnose issues early on.
American Robotics is developing a fully autonomous “Robot-as-a-service” with autonomous drones, base stations, and analytics platforms, giving producers insights into growers at resolutions, frequencies, and speeds never before possible.
Advantages of automated farming
Automated farming addresses significant issues such as a rising global population, farm labor shortages, and changing consumer preferences. The benefits of automating traditional farming processes are monumental.
Consumers' preferences are shifting towards organic and sustainable products. With automated farming, produce reaches consumers faster, fresher, and more sustainable. An increase in productivity from automation increases the yield and rate of production, reducing consumer costs.
Labor is over 50% of the cost of growing a farm, and 55% of farmers say labor shortages impact them. Because of this, 31% of farmers are moving to less laborious crops. However, there is a vast potential for harvest machine learning.
Routine tasks can be automated with robotics technology, reducing labor costs in the agriculture industry. For example, a single strawberry robot harvester has the potential to pick a 25-acre area in 3 days and replace 30 farm workers.
Reduced Environmental Footprint
Automated farming can make agriculture more profitable while also making farming sustainable. By implementing precision farming techniques, farmers can selectively reduce their environmental footprint by applying pesticides and fertilizers, decreasing the chemicals in the surrounding soil and waterways.
In addition, automated systems can help farmers conserve energy and water, reducing their environmental impact.
Challenges of automated farming
There are still some challenges to overcome. High costs to adopt robotic technologies can be a considerable barrier to entry for farmers, especially in developing countries; Technical issues and equipment breakdown can also present high fees to fix such specialized equipment. Farmers must combine their knowledge and experience with these new technologies to fully utilize farm automation.
Even though we are only at the early stages of automated farming, as we look ahead, it's clear that automation will play a significant role in the agriculture industry. Thanks to technological advancements, farming becomes more sophisticated every year, and what was cutting-edge just a few years ago will become standard and cost-effective soon.
This practice is beneficial not only for the farmers themselves but for the environment as well. Not only will automated farming lead to increased yields and reduced costs, but it also has the potential to make farming a safer and more sustainable industry. The human element will always be fundamental to managing a farm, but automated agriculture is essential for human survival.