Are these the tractors of the future?
Yes, according to top agricultural engineer Professor Simon Blackmore, head of engineering at Harper Adams and director of the British Centre for Precision Farming.
Remote-controlled robotic tractors, harvesters and weed removers could be the future of farming, he told the Oxford Farming Conference last week.
New farming machines known as UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are set to replace today’s tractor and driver in the cultivation and harvesting of crops.
Professor Blackmore told the annual farming conference in England that growing concern about energy use and environmental damage would fast-track the development of farm machinery to reach the “holy grail” of using the minimum amount of energy to help the natural environment produce the maximum amount of food.
”The trend on farms has been for machinery to get bigger and bigger and we have got to the stage where farmers using huge tractors for small tasks,” he explained. “But up to 90pc of the energy going into cultivation today is there to repair the damage caused by machines.”
He added that 96pc of fields were being compacted by tyres as part of the “random traffic” associated with traditional field work.
”We need to get to the stage where if we don’t damage the soil in the first place, we won’t have to repair it,” he said, adding that precision agriculture and controlled traffic farming were gathering pace every day.
Lighter GPS-controlled robotic machines, working to the most economical routes and target-treating only the crops that needed fertiliser, sprays or harvesting, are in the pipeline, the conference were told.
While the designs pictured here may seem more like machines that won’t be developed for several decades, the professor told the conference that many of the concepts were already developed and under research, but were not yet commercially available through lack of demand.
The professor added that while agricultural robots will replace semi-skilled drivers in the future, an equal number of highly skilled agricultural robot engineers will be needed in the industry.