Agricultural Automation: What Works and What Shouldn’t Even Be Considered to Touch

Published by Guy Taylor on

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last Updated on 2023-05-24 by Guy Taylor


I am trying to work out whether this will be a rant or an objective piece, or maybe both because although I see the pros of having an automated agricultural setup I think I see more cons and this has been my gripe for a number of months now, possibly for over a year.

Firstly I am going to say that the future is beginning to scare the crap out of me but that does not mean I can fight it, no one can, it is here and we have to deal with it.

By way of technological advancement each generation since time ememorial has had to deal with those challenges since way before modern mankind, I’m sure there was some cavemanΒ  that decided when something resembling an abacus was produced it also scared the crap out of him to the extent where he went to commit suicide by sabretooth, dire wolf or mammoth but I guess it’s all in the name of advancement.

When I grew up in Zimbabwe the main tractors I grew up around were Massey Ferguson’s, my all time hated, Landini and my all time favourite, John Deere. This was a long time before automation was even considered I’m sure.

Tractor drivers who were plowing a corn field, seeding or harvesting before tending to his task scoured his rows for rocks which he would manually remove and throw to the side of the field he was plowing to remove any damage to disks and then he’d get around to his task.

Okay sure, there were times when a rock was missed and it damaged a disk on a plow which delayed process for a short while while he attached another disk or if there was another he’d just go back to the farmyard and connect another plow and continue with his duties while the farm mechanic got around to his duties of replacing the broken disk with a new one.

So with the respect of having a computerized detector those risks are lessened but I am on the fence as I still feel the driver should at the very least have an assistant to scout that field before undertaking any tasks that could cause damage but again I feel expecting a computer to do the detection encourages laziness.

I recall It was physical, it required common sense, it required you to have your eye on the ball at all times, as it were and by way of doing that it helped one seize the initiative. Things were done properly.

And now the world is where it’s at and I cannot deny there have been some game changing additions to the way farmers and their staff conduct day to day operations. Such as using drones to check on their crops or survey some land for future projects. There has been software created which helps process livestock more easily while dosing, calving, branding – such as the software by Performance Beef, for example. There is no denying that there have been some incredible initiatives taken in the way that farming and ranching is conducted worldwide. One would be an absolute muppet to deny that certain initiatives have been fundamental in this respect and it is those initiatives that I am all for.

But what I feel is a negative game changer is the level of automation in some tractors and combine harvesters. Such as having a plug point to boil a kettle, or charge your laptop or cell phone. Or having an onboard computer that allows you to go beyond your farming tasks and check your social media accounts. Or even set it so your tasks are very minimal, the tractor does all the work while you sit back and enjoy your day with minimal involvement. You can talk to your buddies or lovers on the phone and, or social media. I feel that this is inherently disadvantageous for everyone involved because while automation in a sense can be extremely helpful I think it also illustrates the risks involved.

My main gripe came around when some students from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom unveiled their plan for driverless tractors that can be controlled by little more than from an XBOX or Playstation controller and whilst I understand their argument of allowing the farmer or rancher to carry on with other tasks such as in the workshop, or tending to fencing or livestock I still feel this adds a disadvantage to many points because machines break, there will be little to no human involvement. One programmes the tractor to do its tasks and away it goes. That is a recipe for disaster and fundamental costs to the farmer, even more so than to pay a human to do the job. Not only this but this will then extend to combines, trucks to feed livestock in the mornings and evenings.

I also think these levels of automation are going to contribute greatly to levels of poverty so I do not think scientists have thought about this on a human level. Farming industries across the world, not just in the first world provide much needed employment from pickers to tractor and combine harvester drivers and beyond and so once you start adding this level of automation it will create a massive strain on national and international economies as well on social entities which is healthy and is needed. Automation will have much more of a negative impact far than a positive one. The cons vastly outweigh the pros.

When it comes to health and safety I am old enough and experienced enough to point that both are mainly down to common sense.

Again, by no means am I stipulating that any automation is bad. There are some fundamentally important bits, as I stated earlier but I am very concerned for the future of farming and ranching in general if we allow this to go too much further, which is inevitable but too much advancement does more harm than any good on many levels, industrially, agriculturally and commercially.

I feel it adds a serious concern for the future of real agriculture and needs to be thought about at great lengths as to how much further we should allow this to go.

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