The Path to an Autonomous Farm

The Path to an Autonomous Farm
Dec 08, 2021

Labour constraints are pushing people towards automation

Diego Flammini

Changes in the world brought on by COVID-19 and other factors are affecting the agriculture sector.

“The pandemic has created a renewed awareness that we have a fragile labour pool in agriculture,” Ben Voss, director of sales for North America and Australia with Raven Precision, told 2021 Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference and Technology Showcase attendees in November.

“We just can’t find workers anymore. There aren’t kids growing up on farms like there used to be with natural skills (and) borders have been closed for a while so we can’t necessarily have temporary foreign workers to work on farms.”

This is where automation can assist the industry.

Voss demonstrated a path to autonomy with level 0 as traditional farming with no precision technology and level 5 as full autonomy.

Most farms are operating at level 2, which has coordination and optimization, or level 3, which includes real-time automation.

Getting to level 5 on-farm, however, can be a challenge.

Rural communities often lack adequate broadband access other infrastructure required to use technology on the farm fully.

But today’s climate related to food security, sustainability and other topics may lend itself to expedited adoption, Voss said.

“The urgency is different today given the market conditions we’re in, the escalated interest in food security and the supply chain issues that are harming our economy,” he said.

He described the move towards automation as a “war-effort.”

Farmers may need to learn new skills and push through obstacles to ensure they’re positioned for an autonomous future.

“If you don’t know how to diagnose electronics then you’re going to struggle,” Voss said. “The grower is going to have to be okay with more technology.”
Many farmers are already using some sort of automation, like GPS and boom controls.

But these forms of precision ag still require a driver in the cab. 

That is likely to change in the future, Voss said.

“We’re heading toward full autonomy where you can imagine equipment running and you’re remotely monitoring it,” he said. “It’s not that far away.”

This article was featured in the December 2021 Precision Agriculture Digital Digest — view it here.

Watch Ben Voss' presentation from the 2021 Virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase below.

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