Rise of the Robots

With the announcement of Case’s autonomous tractor this week it is clear that a future of driver-less machines are on their way. This isn’t really a total surprise as we have had GPS controlled tractors since the early 2000’s and it was only a matter of time before the driver was completely replaced and while this isn’t the first driver-less tractor concept to be announced it is the first time that a major tractor manufacturer has announced their own design. This is an area that has a growing interest with robots and drones making a strong appearance at the recent Cotton Conference and Ag-Quip. But while it seems clear that that in the future we will be using robotic tractors but the question is will be using large robotic tractors such as Case’s or many swarm bots like those from SwarmFarm and QUT’s Agbot?

The idea behind swarm bots is that their are many smaller robots working on the same farm or even the same paddock, they share information on the task and work to complete it in the most efficient way they can. The other great thing about the concept of swarm farming is that because the machinery is so small it causes very little compaction doing minimal damage to the soil. Compaction is already an issue facing many farmers and the issue is growing with the ever increasing size of the machinery. Compaction is a problem because the weight of the machines squash the soil making it hard and impenetrable for the roots of plants limiting their ability to access water and nutrients, the poor structure can also affect drainage leaving the soil susceptible to water logging. Currently compaction is being managed through the use of GPS controlled machines that travel along “tram tracks”. These “tram tracks” are the wheel tracks that are left by machine as it travels up and down the field limiting the compaction to that particular area of the field. However as this is a completely new technology it will require any producers that adopt the technology to change over all their equipment to these new machines. The other issue that may occur with using swarm bots is that as their is more machinery their is likely to be more maintenance.

Case’s new autonomous tractor and the autonomous tractors from other companies have the advantage of being able to use the farms already existing  machinery but do not address the compaction issue. Both the swarm bots and the autonomous tractors have the advantage of removing the need for a operator which will be a great advantage in a environment where it is constantly becoming more difficult to find operators. However what will happen when something goes wrong? How will it know when a bolt breaks? These machines will need to be covered in senors monitoring it for any sign of failure and will most likely need to be constantly monitored by someone.

Robotic tractors will soon be amongst us and I suspect that we will be seeing them in our fields before we see driver-less cars on the roads. My only questions is which way the industry go?

 

 

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Growing Up On A Farm

I recently drove past the farm that I grew up on near Griffith and it just reminded me of just how lucky my brothers and I were to grow up of farm. We were able to experience a range of things that you just don’t get to experience when you grow up in town or in the city. It also generates a wealth of unique experiences, memories and stories that couldn’t occur elsewhere like when we proudly showed a family friend our poddy calf “Clarabelle” who by that stage resided in the freezer (I’ll get to that later).

The freedom and ability to explore the farm is one of the great things about growing up on one, we were able to wander off (under supervision) and explore, learning about farming, the natural world and how the two interact. We could take the billy cart that dad  built us from a few bits of steel, some wheel barrow wheels, half a plastic drum for a seat and a bit of chord on the front axle to steer with. Then take it out to the gully behind the house, all three of us would jump one (one in the seat steering, one between the seat and frame and one on the back), give it a quick push start and be flying off down the hill only to reach the bottom and pull it back up the gully to start again. We’d catch yabbies in the channels that ran through the farm and around Griffith, have yabby races or cook some for lunch. The ability and freedom to do these things is something my city cousins could never enjoy living in Sydney and were always amazed by what we did when they came out to visit us.

All Three of Us

All Three of Us

We learned firsthand about the beauty and harsh reality of the natural world, from the blight of rabbits and the bitter dry of drought to the joy of rain and green growth it brought we saw it all. We saw and learned firsthand how the introduced rabbit excavated the landscape destroying pasture and how truly devastating it could be when it was coupled with drought. But also saw how quickly the dusty landscape could be transformed to a lush green with rain or how irrigation could bring life to the paddocks in the driest of seasons (when there was a water allocation). But by far the thing I cherish most from the farm was the memories.

Rain

Rain

The unique farm life gave us farm kids of great memories and stories that I have cherished since. Memories of us riding in the tractor with dad as he prepared the fields or how we would sit in the back of the parked ute and watch the Ag Plane sow the rice bays. The day first got on a horse, only to be thrown off over the front straight away and helping dad in the yards with the sheep. Then there was the two hour bus trip to school, we’d get up a six to make lunches before walking down the driveway to the mailbox, getting on the bus at seven and arriving at school in time to start class at nine. Occasionally when we’d get home from school (at 5pm) I would have to get on the motorbike and ride to wherever dad was on the tractor taking him his lunch.

Checking Things With Dad

Checking Things With Dad

But our most famous story would be that of our poddy calf “Clarabelle”. Carrabelle had been given to us by an old drover, bottle raised the young calf and it soon became the family pet. However like with all cattle the time soon came when it was time for the now heifer to go to the slaughter house but us kids bailed up saying it was the family pet and couldn’t go, so Carrabelle was saved for now. Then a few weeks later we returned from a New Years Eve party to find that Carrabelle had somehow let herself into and then back out of the house leaving cow dung in the hallway, urine by the TV and the PLASTIC Christmas Tree half eaten. The next day a meeting was held with a unanimous vote, Clarabelle was going and steak was for dinner, there was no forgiveness any of us kids as Clarabelle had gone too far.

The Infamous Carrabelle

The Infamous Carrabelle

Growing up on the farm is really what made me what I am today and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I’d grown up as a ‘towny’ or in the dreaded city. Its where my passion for Agriculture, farming and flying came from, the things that have made me who I am.

 

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