Set in a dustbowl near-future when Earth's natural capital has somehow been catastrophically squandered, there aren't enough farmers, or enough un-blighted land, to grow enough food to feed everyone. With labor in short supply, the best fix is a tech fix: farm bots.
The good news is that we are not yet at the point where relocating somewhere off the planet is the only way to "save humanity," but farm labor has become a serious issue, one made notably worse by the current administration's immigration policies. The average age for farmers in the US and Canada has crept up to about 60, while the percentage of people working in agriculture has dipped below two percent.
There has also been a significant loss of productive farmland, the result of urban sprawl and widespread land degradation. Meanwhile the human population continues to grow, more than doubling over the last 50 years to nearly eight billion. To meet the challenge of producing more food with less everything, farm bots are going to be an essential part of the mix—along with practices that restore soil health while reducing the need for chemical inputs; policies that protect farmland; biotech to develop crops better able to survive the many challenges of a changing climate; and improved logistics for food storage and distribution.
Tech has alway been integral to agriculture, from the first stick used to scratch a hole in the ground to plant a seed, to plows that turn the soil and scythes to harvest wheat. Modern farmers routinely use everything from satellite data, drone surveillance and soil analysis to figure out exactly when to plant, what to water, where to spray and how to harvest. A combine is a dazzling, giant factory on wheels. That said, knowing there is a human driving the electronics-laden, mechanical beast somehow reaffirms the proper order of things. Large, autonomous machines on the other hand are the stuff of nightmares (see I, Robot).
The team at Canadian agritech startup DOT, however, remains undeterred. The eponymous DOT is a u-shaped, diesel-powered, autonomous (or remote-controlled) platform that can be hooked up to all sorts of farm machinery and programmed using a Windows Surface Pro that pulls in field-specific data stored in the cloud. According to its developers, its many benefits include:
- Saving more than 20% on farm fuel, labour and equipment capital costs
- Reducing CO2 emissions by 20%
- Gaining more than 20% on equipment’s future trade-in value
Farm bots actually come in a variety shapes and sizes:
Still, I can't wait to dig my hands in the dirt of my garden—and am about to start some seedlings in egg shells I've saved specially for the purpose (the shells provide a little hit of calcium). Yes the snow is falling, but spring will come and with it that marvelous of scent of a living earth.
It just wouldn't be right to let farm bots have all the fun.
- Virtual fences, robot workers, stacked crops: farming in 2040 / The Guardian
- Farmworker vs Robot / Washington Post
- UK to launch world’s first doctoral agri-robotics training centre / Farming UK
- Small Robot Company raises £1m in quest for sustainable farming / Farming UK
- Labor Terminators: Farming Robots Are About To Take Over Our Farms / Investor's Business Daily
- Smart Farm / UC Davis (website)