FARMING MATTERS: Looking into the future with robots

Hands Free Hectare run by Harpers Adams University and Precision Decisions
Hands Free Hectare run by Harpers Adams University and Precision Decisions

Technology is a massive part of all our lives, with many jobs already done by robots,and farming is no different.

The ground breaking Hands Free Hectare (HFHa) run by Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions, which aimed to be the first in the world to plant, tend and harvest a crop with only autonomous vehicles and drones, has come to an end after a successful harvest.

The Iseki tractor used for spraying, drilling and rolling was smaller and lighter than most used nowadays. The team’s mentality that smaller is better was carried through to harvest, which was completed with a combine designed to harvest trial plots. The team believe that smaller agricultural machines can improve soil and plant health.

Jonathan Gill, researcher at Harper Adams, said: “There’s been a focus in recent years on making farming more precise, but the larger machines that we’re using are not compatible with this method of working. They’re also so heavy that they are damaging farmers’ soil.

“If combines in the future were similar to the size of the combine we used in this project, which was a little Sampo with a header unit of only two metres, it would allow more precise yield maps to be created. They would also be much lighter machines.”

Mr Gill said the weather was an issue, as always in farming, and spraying and harvest times had to be adjusted due to rain. He said this is part of the reason why machines have got so big over the years, to work quickly when the weather allows.

Picture shows, from left, Martin Abell, mechatronics researcher for the industry lead, Precision Decisions and Jonathan Gill, researcher at Harper Adams University

Picture shows, from left, Martin Abell, mechatronics researcher for the industry lead, Precision Decisions and Jonathan Gill, researcher at Harper Adams University

But he added: “We believe the best solution is that in the future, farmers will manage fleets of smaller, autonomous vehicles. These will be able to go out and work in the fields, allowing the farmer to use their time more effectively and economically instead of having to drive up and down the fields.

“But it’s going to take new talent entering the industry to develop the technology. We hope this project has helped inspire people and show the range of innovative jobs available now in agriculture.”