News

Robots the top pick

By Country News

Robots, automation and blockchain are promising to revolutionise farming forever, so understanding why farmers are only reading about these technologies, rather than implementing them, is at the heart of a new report by Nuffield scholar Matt Fealy.

A farm manager at Blue Sky Produce, a 62ha family farm in far north Queensland, Mr Fealy was driven to investigate innovative labour-saving solutions when the backpacker tax was announced by the Federal Government in 2015.

What he found was an endless list of technological solutions with very few examples of on-farm commercial application.

Supported by Woolworths, Mr Fealy set out to find out why this gap between technological invention and on-farm application was occurring.

Drawing on visits to 13 countries and interviews with leading ag-tech companies and innovative farmers, Mr Fealy’s research provides a practical breakdown of technology that can make a difference to farming practices, particularly horticulture and orchard production.

Mr Fealy’s research canvasses numerous risks to agriculture, such as the increasing unpopularity of temporary worker schemes, rising production costs, urbanisation and food safety and regulatory demands on traceability.

It then explores currently available technology designed to address these challenges.

Acknowledging the orchard industry’s dependency on temporary workers, Mr Fealy researched the potential of robotic harvesting to tackle labour supply and cost issues, as well as quality.

‘‘Fresh Fruit Robotics in Israel is developing a machine capable of picking 10000 fruit per hour, or four fruit per second. This technology has the capability to replace 25 to 30 pickers,’’ he said.

Ultimately, Mr Fealy believed horticulturalists needed to imagine what their businesses would look like tomorrow without temporary workers, to increase their scrutiny on best practice and ensure that every new planting was robot ready.

‘‘It will take brave innovators across all sectors of production, industry and government to lead change and assist in the adoption of these technologies sooner rather than later,’’ he said.