The university was looking to build on the success of its ‘Hands Free Hectare’. Jonathan Wheeler reports
A new three-year project called ‘Hands Free Farm’ will be launched at Harper Adams University this year, to build on the success of the pioneering ‘Hands Free Hectare’.
Hands Free Hectare – run in 2017 and 2018 - demonstrated it was possible to grow a crop without human beings entering the field.
Hands Free Farm expands that to 100 acres (40 ha), with the plan being to grow a combination of autumn and spring crops with autonomously controlled machines.
The £2 million plus project is being funded by Innovate UK and a number of partners, including Precision Decisions and agronomist Kieran Walsh, who were involved with the first two years of the project.
For this project they have added FarmScanUK – a new partner which offers a range of precision farming technology.
In addition, the university’s economics department will also record financial data and assess the commercial viability of the system.
Project leader Kit Franklin said the aim was to start by drilling one third of the area to winter wheat this autumn.
The remaining two thirds will be sown to spring crops - most likely spring barley and beans – which will help spread the workload in the autumn and at harvest.
The aim is for all vehicles to limit human involvement to the farmstead, with all vehicles driving from the yard to the field and back – and do the work – autonomously.
Mr Franklin said: "Automation is the future – and it is not as far in the future as you might think.
"We are trying to design a farm we can monitor and control remotely via apps and the web."
The project will have to cater for the farm’s several footpaths, so machine operators will need to monitor walkers as part of the operation.