The UK-based Hands Free Hectare (HFHa) initiative, operated by Harper Adams University and specialist agronomy outfit Precision Decisions, has successfully harvested its barley crop after planting and tending it solely with autonomous vehicles and drones, claiming a world-first.
“This project aimed to prove that there’s no technological reason why a field can’t be farmed without humans working the land directly now, and we’ve done that,” says Martin Abell, mechatronics researcher at Precision Decisions. “We set-out to identify the opportunities for farming and to prove that it’s possible to autonomously farm the land, and that’s been the great success of the project.”
The initiative cost less than £200,000 and was part-funded by the Innovate UK innovation agency. HFHa deployed machinery that was readily available for farmers to purchase. open source technology and an autopilot from a drone for the navigation system.
The project yielded 4.5 tonnes of barley and the harvest will be used to make a Hands Free Hectare beer. There are also plans to repeat the experiment with a winter crop.
The Hands Free Hectare team told the New Yorker that it envisions a future in which farmers are fleet managers, programming their vehicles from a central mission control and using the time saved to focus on areas needing extra attention.
Also in the UK, vertical farming outfit Intelligent Growth Solutions is looking to launch a full-scale autumn trial to deliver the country’s first commercially viable vertical growing environment together with the James Hutton Institute in Scotland.