Robotic farming – the way of the future?

21 Nov, 2009 04:24 AM
Kjeld Jensen (left) and one of the Danish robots shown to James Hassall (third from right, with backpack) on his Nuffield tour. For a high resolution version, click on the image above.
Kjeld Jensen (left) and one of the Danish robots shown to James Hassall (third from right, with backpack) on his Nuffield tour. For a high resolution version, click on the image above.

PRECISION Agriculture is about to take the next step and see robots planting, spraying and harvesting crops… or is it?

This is one of the questions Gilgandra, NSW, grain grower James Hassall was keen to answer, as part of a Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship sponsored by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Over the past 12 months James has spent a significant amount of time in Europe and America, discovering what is actually possible with current computer technology and how it might be adapted to Australian conditions.

“So much of Precision Agriculture is driven by global positioning systems, or GPS, that understanding developments in that area was a key part of the trip,” James said.

“A great deal of effort is going into increasing the accuracy of GPS and to set up independent testing for the accuracy of auto-steer vehicles. In the not-too-distant future, the location of vehicles could be available in real time over the internet.”

This leads to the question of what other information could be available at the same time, and James says agricultural equipment manufacturers have pledged to standardise their electronic communication systems.

“This means complete compatibility regardless of the brand of tractor, auto-steer software or variable rate air seeder,” James said.

“It’s generally accepted that implementation should happen within five years, and once it does it should be relatively simple to send all the data together via the internet.”

Advances in spray technology are promising to dramatically cut input costs, too.

“In Denmark, they are in the early stages of developing a system which uses a commercial bubble jet printer to ‘print’ chemical directly onto the leaves of weeds.

“They are getting effective control using only 1-5 per cent of the label rate, which makes a big difference to the cost, even compared to Weedseeker technology.

"It also means, potentially, the end of spray drift.

“On top of that, though, is the concept of cameras and a video detection system that can identify the species and match the application rate to the weed.”

James says some of the automation techniques being investigated by the European Union’s Future Farm research project make the mind boggle with opportunity, if you can put them all together.

“Imagine a small, solar powered device about the size of a ride-on lawnmower to avoid compaction issues,” James said.

“When fitted with a microspray unit, it could spend all summer searching for, monitoring and controlling weeds.

"As well, it could map the species and densities and send them to the office computer and your mobile phone.

“It could send you a text when it ran out of chemical, which wouldn’t be often using the Danish technique, and then meet you at the gate."

Having finished his Nuffield scholarship, James is keen to continue learning about Precision Agriculture and how to get some of these ideas off the ground in Australia.

He will also be making presentations to events for both Nuffield and GRDC over coming months to share his knowledge.

More information about James’ trip will shortly be available on the ‘reports’ section of the website:

Date: Newest first | Oldest first


23/11/2009 2:40:38 AM

Don't bet on it, raised beds within a city is the wave of the future. Raised beds 5' by 20' and 2' deep require less water and maintenance than traditional gardening. Four such beds will produce enough vegetables to feed a family of four for one year. Best of all the elderly don't have to stoop to their boot tops to pull a weed and transportation of crops is at a minimum because the food is grown within the community that consumes it.
23/11/2009 6:46:47 AM

Once you can mass-produce the ability to navigate around the paddock you eliminate the need for super-sized machinery. A fleet of solar powered mini bots using beacon towers to triangulate their position with millimetre accuracy. Can plant individual seeds and place fertiliser to a precise depth and in a precise location. Returning to a centrally placed dispenser to collect more seed and fertiliser as the need arises. Once the crop is planted they can then patrol it 24/7 controlling weeds and insects. You can kill a weed seedling, or caterpillar with a magnifying glass - no need for chemicals. I have just bought myself a robot vacuum cleaner and while it takes two hours to do what I can do in 20 minutes it does its two hours work before I wake up in the morning.


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