Aussie farmers must prepare for robotic future, says USC academic - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Aussie farmers must prepare for robotic future, says USC academic

1 May 2018

Australian farmers are not prepared for a rapidly approaching robotic future, says USC information systems expert Associate Professor Don Kerr.

Associate Professor Kerr will be discussing this and other impacts of automation on small to medium farms as part of a research network meeting in the United States of America from Saturday 5 May to Wednesday 9 May.

“We are looking at a global future of farming that includes driverless tractors, GPS systems that automatically manage fertiliser distribution, and eventually even mass greenhouse and lab food creation,” Dr Kerr said.

“Farming is evolving rapidly but unfortunately there’s still not great acceptance for farming software and automated systems in Australia, at least not among smaller to mid-sized private farms.

“In America the uptake has certainly been far greater. You only have to look at the efficiency of labour usage. For example the of litres of milk produced per unit of labour in the USA, which is about four times what we can achieve.

“It seems to boil down to the farmers’ lack of understanding and a distrust of where the technology is coming from. Farmers often think very operationally so it’s very hard to look at things strategically. Also, the ageing farmers tend to be less comfortable with new technology.”

He said his research showed that larger corporate farms tended to be more open to new technology.

Dr Kerr said the purpose of the US collaboration, funded by the US National Science Foundation, was to gather experts from a range of fields to discuss the problem from all angles.

“My area of expertise is in the development and evaluation of decision support systems, which means technology that is helping people make more informed choices,” he said.

The group will also be discussing job displacement caused by automation, an ageing population of farmers, health and safety matters, technology development, sustainability, education for succession planning and farmer outreach and training.

“We want to provide all the mechanisms to embed the new generation of technology in farming communities through a participatory approach,” Dr Kerr said.

He said technology had the potential to greatly improve farming yields, efficiency, finances and even help farmers plan and manage more effectively for drought.

“There are predictive models for rain that can help us plan long-term for future droughts. If farmers could become more prepared using those systems, it would really help,” he said.

For all the technology and automation, though, he says there will still be a need for farmers.

“Someone actually has to have the knowledge of when to harvest. All the automation that is happening in the world today just means people are having to adapt to the machinery that is becoming available and learn how it can benefit their farming."

- Janelle Kirkland

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