Get ready for robotic future

By Country News

Australian farmers are not prepared for a rapidly approaching robotic future, says University of the Sunshine Coast information systems expert Associate Professor Don Kerr.

Dr Kerr is discussing this and other impacts of automation on small to medium farms as part of a research network meeting in the United States, which ends on May 9.

‘‘We are looking at a global future of farming that includes driver-less tractors, GPS systems that automatically manage fertiliser distribution, and eventually even mass greenhouse and lab food creation,’’ he said.

‘‘Farming is evolving rapidly but unfortunately there’s still not great acceptance for farming software and automated systems in Australia, at least not among smaller to mid-sized private farms.

‘‘In America the uptake has certainly been far greater.

‘‘You only have to look at the efficiency of labour usage. For example, the litres of milk produced per unit of labour in the US, which is about four times what we can achieve.

‘‘It seems to boil down to the farmers’ lack of understanding and a distrust of where the technology is coming from.’’

Dr Kerr said his research showed that larger corporate farms tended to be more open to new technology.

He said the purpose of the US collaboration, funded by the US National Science Foundation, was to gather experts from a range of fields to discuss the problem from all angles.

The group will also discuss job displacement caused by automation, an ageing population of farmers, health and safety matters, technology development, sustainability, education for succession planning and farmer outreach and training.

Dr Kerr said despite all the technology and automation, there would still be a need for farmers.