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Agri-Tech: The Future of Farming

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It has recently been announced that several innovative UK agri-tech projects are to profit from a £24 million government fund (https://www.farminguk.com/news/uk-agri-tech-projects-receive-24m-government-boost_56116.html).  Therefore, in this week’s blog, we will take a brief look at three innovative technologies which are set to transform farming methods, resulting in a more efficient and sustainable future for our industry.

Fruit Picking Robots

It has been widely documented that there is an increasing shortage of seasonal fruit-pickers, resulting in a need to find alternatives to the historical over reliance on human labour.  Hence, over the past five years, there have been several companies, both start-ups and existing, which have been investing in the development of fruit picking robots.  There are already a number of products on the market, with many more due for release; therefore, it is widely predicted that the robotic fruit picking market will be extremely competitive.  Drawing on a range of technologies, including: AI, advanced vision systems and image processing techniques, the robots can pick fruits across the whole spectrum; from hard fruits such as apples, to soft fruits such as strawberries.  Fruit picking robots are an excellent solution to the shortage of human fruit pickers and will be great in terms of efficiency, helping to tackle ever-increasing demands on food production.

Autonomous Farm Equipment

With several Australian and Canadian start-up companies at the forefront; from driverless tractors, to specialised ploughing, planting, spraying and weeding kit, the first fully autonomous farming equipment is now available.  For example, SwarmFarm Robotics in Australia have developed multi-tasking robots that can mow, spread, and weed kill.  Early indications suggest that this technology is saving some Australian farmers up to 80 percent in chemical costs, as the robots can more easily target chemicals directly at weeds.  In addition, the reduction in chemical spraying outputs is therefore, hugely beneficial for the environment.  In Canada, fully autonomous tractors are now commercially available; these tractors will be of great benefit to farm workers, freeing them up to concentrate on other important tasks, increasing efficiency and profitability.

Fully Autonomous Hydroponic Growing Systems

Arguably driven by the burgeoning cannabis / hemp industry, fully autonomous hydroponic growing systems are set to revolutionise plant-based food production.  In 2019, an Israeli start-up company, Seedo, released their fully autonomous, self-contained hydroponic growing system.  The system is so autonomically advanced that individuals require no previous cultivation knowledge or experience to start growing plants.  The system manages the whole process, from seed through growth, to flower and as the plants are completely sealed in a self contained unit, they are free from disease and pests and therefore, require no pesticides.  The Seedo growing device is akin to a small fridge, containing built in carbon filters, automated air-conditioning, a full spectrum auto-adjusting LED lighting system, a mineral delivery system, CO2 cartridges for photosynthesis and an interior monitoring camera.  The whole system is controlled and managed by AI software, which monitors the plants development, making environmental and nutritional adjustments when necessary. (https://www.cannabistech.com/articles/seedo-the-israeli-ai-powered-autonomous-cannabis-grow-box-goes-global/)

As the above examples demonstrate, technology is going play a huge part in future farming and wider agricultural processes and practices.  As food demand grows, due to the ever-increasing global population, these technologies will be crucial to ensure that that demand is met, whilst at the same time, in light of the ongoing climate emergency, ensuring sustainable and efficient farming methods moving forward.

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