Agriculture This Week - Move to robot farming nears

It is a rare occurrence when farming becomes a topic of conversation when I am board gaming with my usual group of friends, yet that is just what happened when we gathered Jan. 2.

The topic turned to farming when we were discussing the ever-evolving area of robotics.

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While it’s not exactly clear as I think back how we started talking about robots, but we were observing that one of the confining issues with robots is there mobility. It is a huge barrier to get robots moving in a bipedal -fashion as humans do, and that for many is a defining vision of what a robot will become.

But it was quickly noted in many industries, agriculture included, you don’t need that sort of mobility.

We have seen robotic milking parlours part of the dairy industry for years now.

And many assembly lines have elements of robotics as integral elements. It is also guaranteed most farm machinery will have been created, at least in part, by robotic welders.

On the farm, at least to-date, robotics have not made a major inroad, although you will certainly see their arrival en masse soon.

Many new combines and tractors can now maneuver up and down the field in an autonomous fashion thanks to global positioning systems. Most producers are still in the cabs, along for the ride these days, but one has a sense that will change.

And once the ‘in-the-seat’ operator is taken out of the equation, real change will happen.

The actual shape of the power source, in this case the tractor, will evolve as steering wheels, and gear shifts, and visual monitors and tractor seat, will become obsolete.

What shape the new power units take will be interesting to watch develop, but a big block that is essentially just a power source with some directional computer elements are essentially all that will be required.

The new units will change how producers farm.

I recall my grandfather talking about how the tractor changed farming because horses would eventually tire and that meant the end of operations for the day. A tractor never tired.

Of course the tractor operator does tire, and finding good operators that are affordable at peak times is difficult, so machinery still gets turned off at some point.

The robotic power unit will need serviced of course, the fuel tank filled, the seed compartment filled etc, but otherwise is can go up and down the field for as long as the weather allows.

That will be a fundamental change in farming, and it is clearly a change coming sooner than most likely expect.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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