Photo by: Joao Marcelo Marques
The first waves of commercially available autonomous farm equipment are starting to appear on farms in Canada and Australia, and farmers are reporting immediate benefits.
According to Independent, Dot Technology in Sask. has begun selling their first pilot program units for autonomous planting platforms that require no drivers. Farmers are required to maintain supervision of the units while they work, but Dot Technology hopes to leverage the experience gained in the 2019 pilot program to make it legal in Canada for farmers to let their autonomous equipment run unsupervised.
CEO of Dot, Leah Olson-Friesen, spoke on the potential benefits that farmers could see from autonomous equipment, saying “When you look at the amount of intelligence that's sitting in the cab, they could be on the phone doing different things or outside of the cab — there's some real opportunities there.”
Meanwhile, in Australia, SwarmFarm Robotics began leasing autonomous weed-sprayers in 2018. Designed to be smaller and more precise than mechanized sprayers, these units are able to distinguish by color between crop and weed and perform precision spraying, as opposed to traditional blanket application.
Sam Bradford, a farm manager at Arcturus Downs in Australia's Queensland state, spoke on the benefits he saw during the 2018 planting season with SwarmFarm, saying, “The savings on chemicals is huge, but there's also savings for the environment from using less chemicals and you're also getting a better result in the end.”
SwarmFarm’s CEO Andrew Bate explained that precision was the purpose of the autonomous sprayers, saying, “We've lost sight of [profitability and` efficiency in farming] with engineering that doesn't match the agronomy. Robots flip that on its head. What's driving adoption in agriculture is better farming systems and better ways to grow crops.”