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Exploring the role of agricultural robots in future agricultural systems

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At World FIRA 2021 – New ways to automate and organise agricultural work around the world – a roundtable discussion will bring together panellists from around the world to discuss how the dynamic agri-robotics market offers new opportunities for the sector.

Most of the world’s farms have been operating for centuries with a mix of science, experimentation and generational knowledge. From preparing the land and planting the crop, to spraying, weeding and harvesting the finished product, farmers often farm in the same way as they learned from their ancestors. They continue to do things the way they’ve always done them, refining them as necessary before passing those methods on to the next generation.

This doesn’t mean that technology or equipment is stagnating, but simply that these exciting improvements are largely built into century-old systems. Many growers are committed to maintaining some level of business as usual, even as they add things like irrigation control, weed control robots and remote connectivity systems to their workflows.

As the agri-robotics market continues to evolve, however, farming systems will change as family farms, still predominant globally, challenge. Complicating factors such as labour shortages, rising production costs and the increasing need to produce more food are also forcing many farms to rethink their approach to evolving technologies. As the industry begins to innovate at an ever faster pace, this raises an important question: what impact will automation have on the world’s agricultural systems in the future?

The FIRA 2021 roundtable discussion, “Automation and new ways of organising agricultural work around the world”, will explore this very question. Pierre Compere, Head of Business Development at Agri Sud-Ouest Innovation, an innovation hub dedicated to the development of eco-smart agri-food chains, will be the moderator. He sees this debate as important for the growth of the sector.

When the organisers of World FIRA shared their initial ideas for the programme with me, I thought the opening conference would be a great opportunity to gain insights into the changing ways in which agricultural work and labour are organised around the world, says Compere. As robotics becomes more technologically mature, it’s interesting to question the operational integration of equipment and try to understand the insights and dynamics of agri-robotics markets.

The panel discussion will feature experts from the United States, Asia, New Zealand and South America who will share their knowledge and experiences of how agricultural systems in these parts of the world are changing as robotics evolves. In France, for example, the transition has already begun from relatively small family farms to larger farms, some of which outsource work to service providers. This change will in turn have an impact on the French market for robotics. Similar changes are taking place elsewhere. Anyone who attends the panel discussion will get an insider’s perspective on how farming systems around the world are organised and how this organisation is likely to change in unique ways over time.

We will talk about the size of plots and farms, family farms vs agribusinesses, labour services, investment capacity and much more,” says Compere. “In a nutshell, the debate will be about who is the operator of the agri-bots and who will run it, as we are not sure that everyone shares the same definition of ‘farmer’. Some experts envision farming systems without farmers, or at least not the same farmers we have known.

In addition to sharing their ideas about robotics and autonomous systems, panelists will provide perspectives on how automation should be adapted, developed and used in their fields. New ways of working are on the horizon. This roundtable will help participants understand how these technologies will impact specific farming systems and settings, as well as the industry as a whole.

I think it’s very important for manufacturers and robotics players to understand the structure of the market, the structure of design and the way work is organized in agriculture,” says Compere. Robots must answer the challenges farmers face in terms of labour, creating workers and organising their business. These robot manufacturers and their partners need to understand how the industry and farming systems are evolving to bring robots to market that respond to these challenges.

Participants interested in attending the conference – Automation and New Ways to Organize Farm Work Worldwide – should mark their calendars for Tuesday, December 7, 2021, 9-10:15 a.m. This opening day roundtable discussion will be part of the World FIRA 2021 event from 7-9 December 2021. For more information about World FIRA 2021, please visit www.fira-agtech.com/event/fira.

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