Disruptive ideas were needed to bring the future technology of farming to the farmgate, with producers needing to stop buying big tractors in favour of smarter technology, with huge potential in agriculture for automation.
Harper Adams University head of robotic agriculture, Professor Simon Blackmore, said current farm machinery was ‘not fit for purpose’ and the more he analysed the current systems, the more critical of it he became.
Speaking at the AHDB food and farming futures conference in Warwick, Professor Blackmore said: “We should ban the tractor and ban the 36-metre sprayer."
He said large machinery was damaging the soil and crop protection technology needed to become more flexible and efficient.
And with robotic weeders, which targeted chemicals only on the weed, he suggested instead of banning chemicals such as glyphosate, the sprayer, which ‘wastes it’ should be banned.
And he believed the people who would benefit most from disruptive technology would be small family farms.
“A lot of smaller farms and small fields are not as efficient as larger farms. If we have smarter technology they can be,” he said.
Precision farming can also cut down on farm waste, only harvesting fruit and vegetables once they are in a saleable condition.
Angela Karp, director for science innovation, engagement and partnerships at Rothamsted, emphasised the importance of testing technology with farmers to make sure it is wanted and has real applications on farm as making assumptions can lead to doing a lot of unnecessary work for a product which will not sell.
“You can be quite wrong about your assumptions, it is finding that out early enough,” she said.
“Design tests. Is it desirable, is it useful, is it viable?”
She added they were also opening opportunities to work with farmers and their ideas about technologies which needed to be brought to the farm.
Professor Blackmore said they were speaking with start-up businesses about bringing new technologies onto the market.
“The big technology manufacturers are not interested. We are talking about disrupters,” he said.
“Robots will be very disruptive but have significant benefits.”