Robotic farming sparks debate

Cereal farmers from across the West Midlands were given an insight into precision farming and the research work being done at Shropshire’s farming university.

Professor Simon Blackmore and Robert LockhartSimon Blackmore, Professor of Agricultural Engineering at Harper Adams, was at the NFU West Midlands combinable crops board meeting a few weeks ago.

A leading academic in the area of agricultural engineering he is head of both the Harper Adams engineering department and the National Centre for Precision Farming.

He said: “We are looking at agricultural robotics, trying to develop precision farming to the ultimate with the minimum amount of energy put into the natural environment to get the commercial requirements we need.

“This is about more sustainable farming, with smaller inputs, less waste and more income.

“Precision farming is not a panacea, a single solution but it is a tool.

“We have to understand the farming process, manage the aims and then use this tool.

“Precision farming is very much something that is between the ears, I’ve always been fascinated to see the light bulb going on when a farmer realises the many different things it can do to help him and his business.”

Professor Blackmore also discussed how farmers could start out, capital costs and moved on to GPS and variable rate technology, conductivity, yield and gross margin mapping among other things.The modern John Deere cab which requires good IT skills

Members heard Harper Adams was also working with the China Agricultural University after being awarded £36,000 to fund collaborative research.

The partnership will link the research of both the engineering departments of Harper Adams and China Agricultural University focusing on precision agriculture developments.

The joint research programme, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Chinese Ministry of Education, will develop ground-based robots and unmanned aerial vehicles.


Professor Blackmore said he was supervising the project work and examples of application include locating and rounding livestock in remote areas, precision application of fertiliser and the integration of controlled traffic farming.

At the meeting farmers also heard about precision farming from fellow crops board member Jake Freestone, Overbury Farms manager, who has won a Nuffield Scholarship.

Jake, based on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border, is looking at the challenge of 20 tonnes per hectare in 20 years.

In March he was due to head out to Ontario, in Canada, for the Contemporary Nuffield Scholars Conference with others from across the globe.

He was then due to visit the University of Guelph, the experimental farm in Ottawa before exploring wheat projects in Quebec.

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