“The amount of interventions required combined with the cost of human labour means we are going to require low cost, robust farm robots to provide these interventions. “So if we want to make best use of what is currently going on with sensors and analytics, then we must use robots. So I suppose I personally see them as an inevitability given the current road the agriculture industry is on.”
Farmers are sceptical but excited
Technologies are being developed at a fast pace, maybe even faster than farmers can embrace them. But David says farmers are excited and sceptical about new technology. David states: “I think farmers are sceptical of new technology because of the amount of snake oil out there, like NDVI based crop analytics, rather than pace of development. “I’ve yet to meet a farmer who isn’t excited to use a new technology that demonstrably works. Most farmers I know are extremely progressive. “If a technology is a good technology, then it should be cheaper and easier to use than what it’s replacing as well as being better.” Using the facial recognition technology developed by Cainthus has great potential for farmers as the first customers are discovering. “We’ve installed on two farms currently, and yes, they actively use it. A 5% increase in feed efficiency is worth a lot to a dairy farmer, and we can contribute quite a bit more than that simply by letting you know when the cows stop feeding, enabling you to intervene earlier than otherwise possible.
“I think livestock is more readily applicable for robotics as you’re not asking these farmers to replace existing machines with robots, except for milking robots. With tillage, you’re asking a farmer to abandon the tractor or harvester, which is much harder.”
Mixed farms by 2050
It’s anyone’s guess what a livestock farm will look like by 2050, but David thinks farms will become more a mixed enterprise in the future. “I don’t think that there will purely be livestock farms by 2050. Farms will more likely be mixed, using agro-ecology style systems with many different crops and livestock. “For a farmer to operate in this environment they’ll need to be extremely comfortable with data, statistics, and robots as well as being ecological experts. “When I think of a 2050 farm, I struggle to see beyond it being one farmer and machines. But this is true of many industries by 2050. The best of farmers will run far larger farms than today, only involving themselves when the machines are damaged or confused and need some human assistance. “Think of Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, except without the monocultures! Consumers are often naive when it comes to how a modern farm is managed, and also often have negative associations with robotics on a farm. It may be a tough learning curve to educate a farmer in new technology but how do we get consumers onside?" Hunt explains.
Robots are a good thing
Hunt is not sure if he can agree that consumers have negative associations with farm robotics. He has never seen or heard of this before. “Consumer naivety related to farming seems to centre on the misguided belief that livestock farming is cruel and that small farms are more environmentally friendly. So I don’t believe that any work is needed to let consumers know that robots are a good thing as I think most believe that anyway. But it is important to let them know just how much more environmentally and animal friendly farms can be if they further leverage robotics.
“It’s a pretty straightforward narrative, robotics enable individual animal and plant management on a large scale. The minute something goes wrong, the robots intervene far more rapidly an efficiently than a human could ever hope to, which is better for the animals' welfare,” he concludes.