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Robot tractors, mini drones and real-time data: leading futurist presents the farming of tomorrow

The farms of the future will be managed from futuristic command centres where farmers can dispatch mini drones and robot tractors in response to real-time information, according to Canadian futurist Richard Worzel.

Speaking at BASF Canada’s Knowledge Harvest, a major event for farmers in North America, Worzel outlined an image of farming where a computerised butler would present data about moisture and temperature and enable the farmer to respond accordingly.

He described how farmers would be able to use robot tractors to plant seeds, which would make precision planting in response to soil conditions easy and effective.

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Swarms of mini drones would be used to scout crops at low heights, providing readings on condition and growth rate, and digitally-generated maps would provide precise information about where to apply fertilizer and pesticides.

The future could even be organic: natural predators such as ladybugs could be dispatched in response to imminently-hatching pests.

Speaking ahead of the event, Worzak said: “The prospects for farms and farmers are probably better than they have been for fifty years or more.”

The technology Worzak describes could have a significant impact on crop yield, which is vital in a world where population growth is quickly outstripping food supply.

“Information technologies are going to allow farmers to do more with less: fewer inputs, better costs, higher yields,” Worzak explained.

Changes in technology elsewhere could also have an impact on what farmers are growing.

“Traditionally farmers have made their money off of three primary food sources,” Worzak said, referring to the “three fs” of farming: food, feed and fibre.

“Now technology is adding three additional sources,” he explained, outlining how many farmers will increasingly be growing crops for fuel, pseudo-plastics and pharmaceuticals.

There is considerable ongoing research across a host of industries about the use of plants in these areas, and it is likely that they will be increasingly used ahead of oil-based or chemically-derived products.

This could be bad news for consumers, though: farmers are likely to opt for whatever sells for the most, which means there could be a shortage of some food products if growing plastics turns out to pay more.

Farming is an area seeing huge growth in technological solutions. Genetically modified crops that are tailored to resist pests or have higher yields have been used for years in some areas of the world, and hydroponic and aquaponic solutions are increasingly being used in regions where space is at a premium.

Farming machinery is also going high tech. In 2011 Tractor manufacturers Valtra created a concept for their tractor of the future (pictured above and in the video). Named ANTS, it features a video game-style heads-up display, a modular design and the ability to work autonomously on basic tasks.

With farming drones in development and significant amounts being thrown into farm analytics, Worzel’s view of the farming future could be here before long.


Featured image courtesy of Valtra.


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