Are “Agrobots” the Future of Farm Labor?
Even though the U.S. has a primarily service-based economy, agriculture is still an important industry. The U.S. cannot rely solely on agricultural imports, which is why there are still thousands of working farms in operation across the U.S. They produce everything from apples and oranges to alfalfa and sprouts. New innovations in farming operations are helping farmers keep up with the agricultural demands of the U.S. — Agrobots.
What Is an “Agrobot?”
Agrobots are robots or drones that help farmers with agricultural tasks. For instance, some agrobots detect weeds and pick them; others apply fertilizer, bail hay, or provide surveillance. Most agrobots work off of sensors. These sensors help them avoid and detect obstacles in the field. Some agrobots are even guided by farmers through GPS. There are already several Agrobots in use across the country and new uses are being invented every day. Many consider agrobots the future of farm labor.
Why Do We Need Agrobots?
The Robot Report says that the world population will reach 9 billion by 2050. By that time, agricultural production needs to double to keep up with demand. Productivity must also increase by 25 percent. Without the use of agrobots, those numbers would be difficult to achieve.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of farm workers is on the decline. This is partially because of low pay, but also because there are fewer farms around the U.S. than there were only a decade ago. Most farmers are already using technology for their farming operations, but agrobots could help a lot more and reduce the need for as much farm labor.
Agricultural Robots — Market Shares, Strategies and Forecasts reports, “The agricultural robot market size at $817 million in 2013 is anticipated to reach $16.3 billion by 2020, a heft growth for a nascent market. Agricultural robots are but part of an overall trend toward more automated process for every type of human endeavor.”
Cost of Agrobots
Farmers that use agrobots invest thousands of dollars. It’s estimated that most agrobots cost upwards of $100,000. That’s because these machines need to be specially programmed to do what famers want them to do. Of course, farmers would have spent that much on a couple of farm workers over the course of a couple of years.
With the right investment, Agrobots can be programmed to do some pretty nifty things. The Wall Street Journal reports about one agrobot that roams strawberry fields picking the ripe fruit and leaving other fruit alone. It is a 14-arm machine that replaces the need for strawberry pickers. The machine cost over $100,000 to make, but it will save farmers money in the long run and reduce the farm worker shortage problem.
There’s no doubt that agrobots are important to the health and success of agriculture in the U.S. However, new innovations are needed to deploy agrobots on a wide scale. There are holdups on drones that may delay new agrobot innovations. However, many farmers are already starting to use different types of agrobots in their fields.
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