Farmers may soon have to get accustomed to life behind the screen instead of in the field as robots and AI increasingly catch up with, and in many cases, greatly exceed the capabilities of human workers.
The "hands-free farm" project is under development by researchers at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Australia, in partnership with Food Agility Co-operative Research Centre.
Once completed, the 1,900-hectare farm will serve as a demonstration of the capability of robotics and AI in farming.
Amongst the technologies on display will be drones, robotic tractors, harvesters, and sensors for measuring carbon emissions and other metrics. Artificial intelligence will be used to inform automated management decisions.
Taking farmers out of the field
In a press statement, Food Agility CEO Richard Norton explained that "hands-free" farming was much closer than many people realized.
"Full automation is not a distant concept, there are already mines in the Pilbara operated entirely through automation," Norton explained. "It won’t be too many years before technology will take farmers out of the field and immerse them in the world of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence."
The farm that is being converted for full automation is already operated commercially, and early tests will keep it running at nighttime while the farmers sleep.
A new order for food production
Alongside automation, other innovations stand to revolutionize the way our societies produce food. Vertical farming in cities, for example, can free up rural space that would otherwise be used for farming.
Alt-meats, meanwhile, already drastically cut carbon emissions when compared to traditional animal farming — a recent lifecycle assessment report by sustainability firm Quantis, for example, showed that Impossible Foods' burgers created 89 percent less greenhouse gas emissions during the production process.
Though the robots taking our jobs narrative is compelling and alarming in equal measure, near-term estimates by the World Economic Forum show that automation will create 97 million jobs — which is more than it will displace. It might just be a case of farmers trading the outdoors for AI software management from behind an office screen.