Council for Agricultural Science and Technology

In a new issue paper published on Nov. 16, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) outlined opportunities provided by ground and aerial robots for improved crop and animal production, as well as the challenges associated with their progress and adoption.

The paper – titled “Ground and Aerial Robots for Agricultural Production: Opportunities and Challenges” – notes that currently, ground and aerial robots are used in both row crops and specialty crops, while robotic manipulators (robotic arms) are used primarily in dairy, specialty crop, and greenhouse applications.

But while labor challenges are driving the demand for automation and robotics in specialty crop production, the ability to optimally manage production inputs is a primary motivation for using robots in row-crop production.

“Highly automated systems are employed in crop and animal agriculture to increase input efficiency and agricultural output with reduced adverse impact on the environment,” the paper said, outlining the benefits of this technology.

“Ground and aerial robots combined with artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have potential to tackle the rising food, fiber, and fuel demands of the rapidly growing population that is slated to be around 10 billion by the year 2050.”

CAST noted that researchers are developing new robotic prototypes for row crop field applications, including autonomous weed management, seeding and plant phenotyping.

In addition, robotics for poultry and swine production are under development and there currently is a “fair amount of potential” for automation within these animal systems for feeding the animals and processing meat and eggs.

CAST also noted that ground and aerial robots could attract a new generation into farming, which may be crucial as the current aging generation of farmers retires.

In the paper’s conclusion, the CAST Task Force made several recommendations regarding the challenges currently inhibiting widespread adoption of ground and aerial robots in agriculture:

ROI: Researchers and technology companies should work closely with the early adopters to quickly evaluate the return on investment of automated/robotic systems to support increased adoption of appropriate technologies.

Rural Connectivity: Since rural high-speed broadband connectivity is essential for the successful deployment ground and aerial robots, investments must be made to support public-private partnerships for developing and building out innovative wireless solutions.

Safety Standards: Safety, operational, and performance standards must be developed in support of ground and aerial robot deployment in agricultural production environments. Standards are necessary to address product liability for both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and start-up companies, the CAST task force said.

Policymaker Education: Educational institutions, government agencies and the private sector must initiate a dialog with policymakers regarding data privacy, security, ownership and transparency in agriculture. “Robust educational programs are needed for updating policymakers on technology expansion in agriculture,” CAST noted. “It is essential for stakeholders, industry professionals and government agencies to remain abreast of recent developments in the private sector.”

Regulations: The regulatory environment must keep pace with the changing landscape of agriculture “to fully realize the expected benefits stemming from the deployment of ground and aerial robotic systems in crop and livestock production environments with reduced reliance on human labor.” The full paper is available on CAST’s website

The full paper is available on CAST’s website.

By Sarah Gonzalez

NGFA Director of Communications and Digital Media

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