Technology Helping Farmers

Not to mention reducing the backbreaking labor now required harvesting most crops by hand, this new technology reported by AG Alert is wonderful.

An excerpt.

“Amid employee shortages, groundwater issues and other challenges, farmers in Monterey County and elsewhere are looking to the tech sector to help them bring their crops to market.

“Parker Jones is one of those seeking to help farmers do more with less. Two months ago, he launched a custom-farming operation, Hermanos Automated Services, renting out a weeding machine that largely replaces hand labor in lettuce fields. It’s made by British-based Garford Farm Machinery.

“It’s all about the software,” Jones said. “The plant spacing is different from plant to plant or line to line. We just enter the measurements in the computer, click ‘Go’ and run the machine. Really, it’s not much to it besides that.”

“The weeder uses a camera mounted 65 to 68 inches above the ground to read the field and guide the weeder’s wheels accordingly, Jones said as he prepared the machine to weed a field of romaine in Soledad. The weeder is towed behind a tractor.

“As it sees the plotline move, the tractor obviously can’t move,” Jones explained. “It has to stay straight. So if the plant lines tend to move, whether it’s a direct-seeded field or if it’s a transplanted field, the lines usually move at the same rate going left to right. The camera actually detects that and guides itself, so these wheels will turn when needed or stay straight.”

“As the weeder moves, its knives work between the plant lines and the disks work around the plants to get the weeds, Jones added.

“The toughest crop to work with so far, he said, has been red lettuce.

“The difficult part about the red lettuce is that it’s just a couple shades off of the soil,” Jones said. “When the red lettuce starts to grow, it actually gets like a pale, light brown color, so it kind of looks like the soil. That’s a difficult part for the camera—is it soil or is it a plant?”

“The tracking technology has rapidly advanced, he said, noting that a year ago the controls in the tractor cab would have used a USB port and a keyboard. The latest version uses a touchscreen.

“Eventually, this will just be an iPad,” he said. “You’ll be able to just control it from the truck or preprogram into it, and your driver won’t have to even touch this. You can do it from your house. That’s where I see the tech going.”

“Jones said he tried selling the weeders at first but was unsuccessful, as buyers were put off by the six-figure price tag. A couple of friends suggested he start a service company instead.

“And it caught on like wildfire,” he said. “We’re getting calls from Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, all throughout California.”

“Tractor automation is the focus for Bear Flag Robotics of Sunnyvale, where Igino Cafiero, the company’s founder and chief executive, works on self-driving technology. He exhibited his prototype, a standard tractor fitted with perception sensors and actuators, at a recent ag-tech event hosted by Merrill Farms in Salinas.

“We’re really excited about ultimately answering, how can we grow more food on fewer acres at a lower cost?” Cafiero said. “That’s what we’re focused on, and that’s really the pull from the growers. Having reliable autonomous machines to aid in that effort really, really does move the needle for the growers that we work with.”

“Bear Flag said it envisions being able to program tractor fleets remotely with routes and jobs in row-crop fields, orchards and vineyards, with the tractors capable of pulling plows or spray rigs. Cafiero said he’s working on secondary-tillage operations in Salinas and has also run postharvest disking trials.

“We keep them dirty, man,” Cafiero said of his prototypes. “Doesn’t really do much good to have them sitting in the shops. Every time we can get out and be useful and be helpful, we do.”

“Farm technology also takes to the sky, with drones already used to conduct survey flights and deliver beneficial insects. One builder in Massachusetts, Kiwi Technology, is looking at aerial applications and brought its own oversized quadcopter drone designed for that purpose to the Merrill Farms event.”

Retrieved August 14, 2019 from http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=13199

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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