Future Farms Will Be Run By Robots

I have a love-hate relationship with farmers. I have a great deal of respect for the enterprise and for those who dedicate their lives to it. But, I also become annoyed at the culture in which modern American farming embeds itself. And, I don’t feel a lot of reticence talking openly about that.

Having done plenty of farming myself, I don’t feel the need that so many others do to be extra nice to farmers out of lack of understanding. I know when the farmers complain about too little or too much rain, they are studiously ignoring the fact that if it is harder to plant or harvest, they make out like bandits with the price of their product. Farmers talk about how hard that life is, and yes, it is indeed very hard, but they seem to not mention that a typical large scale farm these days (as most farms are) is a multi tens of millions of dollars business sitting on enormously valuable land. Whenever things go really wrong with farms in the US, they get help. As it is now, we have some of the most bone-headed agricultural policies ever invented mainly to keep farmers happy, because so many US Congressional districts span vast farmland and little else.

And what does America get back for giving farmers so much help in producing a product that we have no choice but to buy? We get a lot of crap. Red counties are farm counties. Red districts give us a Republican House. Farmers mainly backed trump, even though Trump policies are almost all bad for almost all farmers.

As a brief aside, and to illustrate the disconnect between farmer culture and actual farmer self interest, I can give you this example.

Have you ever heard of Mexican cheese? Or, more to the point, have you ever been to Mexico, and then, while there, had some cheese? That cheese might have been made in Mexico, but they don’t really make cheese in Mexico. Most of the cheese eaten there is imported. From where? From Wisconsin. Nowhere else. Why? Because of Clinton’s trade policies. Clinton made a bunch of sweet deals for American farmers and that was one of them. Rural farmers in Wisconsin voted for Trump, and Trump was the guy who was going to end NAFTA (and still might, who knows?). NAFTA keeps Wisconsin dairy and cheese in business. Get rid of NAFTA, Wisconsin becomes the West Virginia of cheese. Why? Because Mexico would rather buy its cheese from South America because it is cheaper, and the moment the Wisconsin dairy industry is not propped up by NAFTA, the free market takes over and California ends Wisconsin agriculture.

Look around the world. Farmers are taking it in the neck in many other countries, often because of the very climate change so many farmers pretend to believe is a hoax. But not in countries that take care of their farmers. America takes care of its farmers. And at every opportunity, the farmers screw over America.

Therefore, perhaps it will be with great pleasure that Modern Civilization advances to the next level. Robot farmers.

Hands Free Hectare is a project run by Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions Inc. The idea is to develop robots that will plant, tend, and harvest crops.

Now, of course, there will still be farmers, but fewer. So few, perhaps, that most people who are all “oh, I’m a poor farmer, living out in the farmlands, help me help me,” can stop whinging and move to the city. A small number of technologists, mostly the children of former Mexican migrant workers because immigrants or the children of recent immigrants or migrants are the only people in America who still have ambition, will learn the technology and run the farms and, we hope, keep the robots happy and busy.

Anyway, HFHa, as it calls itself, has been at this a while, and the latest iteration involved a major harvest of barley without humans touching anything but buttons and software. HFHa robot expert Martin Abell working for Precision Decisions, noted “This project aimed to prove that there’s no technological reason why a field can’t be farmed without humans working the land directly now and we’ve done that. We achieved this on an impressively low budget [and] we used machinery that was readily available for farmers to buy; open source technology; and an autopilot from a drone for the navigation system.”

Notably, much of the large equipment used was decades old, with the new technology added to it.

Here is the site for Hands Free Hectare, which is a British enterprise.

I for one welcome our new farmer-robot overlords.

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10 thoughts on “Future Farms Will Be Run By Robots

  1. NAFTA’s impact on Wisconsin dairy is overstated. There was a preexisting federal law that set prices based on distance from some place in Wisconsin.

  2. MikeN #1:

    Yes – Eau Claire I believe.

    Government price fixing at its finest.

    It hurts Wisconsin farmers and helps California farmers (who get to charge much more for their milk).

    Totally unfair in the modern world, with refrigerated vehicles.

    They should get rid of that law and let the market decide what the price of milk is.

  3. Mexico is second behind Canada in importing Wisconsin products, and it takes in over half of the annual “cheese product” from Wisconsin. The market has been growing, and analysts in WI lay it to provisions in NAFTA, contrary to the naysayers.

    A bigger issue is what removing NAFTA agreements could do to the general economy in WI, where a good percentage of the workforce is tied to the dairy industry. Big hits to dairy could translate to big losses — not a simple thing to predict, however.

    This is even more complicated by the absurdly high subsidies paid to (dairy and non-dairy) farmers to keep prices low. (The same issue applies to subsidies paid to fossil fuel suppliers.)

    1. Dean I was speaking only of cheese. Wisconsin exports a lot of things to Canada, some of which is agricultural, and some of that is dairy, and some of that is cheese. Wisconsin makes about 3 billion pounds of cheese a year, and over half of that goes to Mexico. A bunch goes elsewhere in the US. Canada does not take over half of Wisconsin cheese. If so, that has changed in just a few months and it is not recorded anywhere obvious.

      But yes, you are correct in that we can expand the argument without damaging it at all, to include all dairy from Wisconsin or all agriculture from Wisconsin, and we find that NAFTA, which applies to both Canada and the US, keep Wisconsin from becoming West Virginia.

  4. ” Wisconsin makes about 3 billion pounds of cheese a year, and over half of that goes to Mexico.”

    That’s what I said. My primary point was to counter the idea that NAFTA did not influence this, because that isn’t what the data says.

    The secondary point was that the system of subsidies simply makes the problem worse.

  5. they seem to not mention that a typical large scale farm these days (as most farms are) is a multi tens of millions of dollars business sitting on enormously valuable land. /blockquote>
    Yup, and they screw over smaller farmers at every opportunity.
    Many of the large scale “farmers” now wear suits and live in mansions, while sending others out to do the work.
    Subsidies have majorly screwed up what food production and farming should earn, as well as costs to consumers. Government subsides severely distort food costs – and why are we subsidizing products like high fructose corn syrup anyway?? They are very damaging to health.
    ugh

  6. Automation in agricultural has allowed cities to expand well beyond what was possible before the age of fossil fuels.

    I just finished picking some pears and table grapes from our little orchard (vs a row crop farm). Existing vineyards and orchards in hilly areas were not designed for automated picking.

    It’s been 25 years since I spent time in Beijing so I don’t know if the new generation of technical, and governmental, elites still think the cultural revolution was worthwhile in terms of ensuring the lives of the poor are considered in developing plans/strategy.

    Ref point 10 and 11 https://creativeconflictwisdom.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/strategy-by-any-other-name-would-sound-as-unacceptable/

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