Will robots replace farm labors? There is a good deal discussion in the agricultural and economic sectors on this issue.
The California start-up Iron Ox created a fully autonomous farm in San Carolos which uses two robots to plant, tend to and harvest produce. Iron Ox’s co-founder and CEO, Brandon Alexander, says that Iron Ox can produce on one acre as much as a traditional farm can on 30 acres.
According to Alexander, as it stands now, fresh produce travels about 2,000 miles from farm to grocery store which means it really isn’t that fresh. Smaller farmers near urban centers would allow for truly fresh produce.
The robots at Iron Ox also use machine learning and AI to detect diseases and pests, removing them before they become an issue. This reduces plants on the farm going bad, co-founder and CTO Jon Binney said. Another advantage of using robots is that they don’t get tired and overtime isn’t an issue.
Iron Ox is not the only indoor farms that rely on robots, either. Other ventures are using robots and technology in some capacity to produce crops. These crops are sustainable and close to cities.
Many economists say farm workers don’t have to worry that they will be put out to pasture, however. One of those is Gordon Rausser of the University of California, Berkeley. Rausser says that much of American agriculture was mechanized long before the robots came into the picture. This includes crops such as corn, soybeans and wheats. Automation is a big part of processing and packaging plants, but other tasks require the human touch, including most fruits and vegetables.
In the United Kingdom, an experimental farm planted and harvested barley with only robot labor. The yield ended up being lower than a traditional farm produces while the costs were higher.
No matter what your stance is on robotic farming, the fact is that farming across the globe is facing a labor crunch. Further, not even higher wages are luring more workers into the field.
Scott Komar, senior vice president of research and development at Driscoll’s, a berry producer in the United States, says from berries to grapes to lettuce, everyone needs more laborers.
This, according to most, highlights the need for more robotics in farming. The pace of robotics in farming is moving forward quickly and farmers and agricultural giants know that. And as is the case in almost every industry today, you innovate or you get left behind.