by Louise Gray
David Gardner, Chief Executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, pointed out robots are already milking cows.
Within the next 20 to 40 years, he said that robots will be able to cultivate land, ‘zap’ weeds and pick fruit and vegetables.
Already Fendt, a German company, are hoping to make a driverless tractor available by 2014. Farmers would control two tractors from one cab. It could be used in flat, large fields in East Anglia within a couple of years for repetitive tasks like de-stoning the soil on vegetable beds.
The new “cabless” tractors use technology developed in the military, that use GPS to know where they are and sensors to detect humans or other life in the way of the machine.
“A large part of the future of British agriculture is robotic.”
Robots will replace jobs that are quite dull and competitive,” said Mr Gardener.
“Autonomous machines will be doing some of the work, if not all of the work by the middle of the century.”
Mr Gardner said much of the more delicate technology is being developed in collaboration with the medical world.
He cited the Handle project, that is creating a prosthetic hand. He has been in contact with the scientists about sharing knowledge for creating robots that can pick fruit.
“Will people still be picking apples in 100 years? I don’t think so. Once we acknowledge that, it is when, not if.”
Farmers are already using computers on tractors to make agriculture more efficient.
So called ‘i-farming’ uses GPS to tell tractors where less pesticide is needed, therefore stopping waste.
In livestock farming sensors on cows’ ankles are being used to tell farmers when cows are pregnant or lame.
Mr Gardener insisted the revolution in farming does not mean “big ugly machines”.
He pointed out that many of the robots will be small and light and insisted they were safe as radar and remote control will stop crashes into objects or humans.
He said robots could even help to maintain the countryside, by making it easier for small family farms to continue without having to employ labour.
“The barriers are legal and social and whether it will be acceptable to the British public.”