A three-member team of engineers in Britain, working as the Hands-Free Hectare initiative, are "the first people in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without direct human intervention," says The New Yorker. The engineers say their underfunded experiment with a plot of barley shows the potential of autonomous agriculture, in which machines work the field without farmers at the steering wheel.
With a shortage of farmworker labor and growing concerns about food safety, one of the largest produce companies in the Salinas Valley of California is turning to mechanized harvesting and robotic processing of its vegetables, forever replacing the workers who once performed these jobs, says the San Francisco Chronicle.
Funding worldwide for agriculture-technology startups in the first six months of 2016 dropped 20 percent, to $1.8 billion, from the same period last year, even as the number of overall deals rose, Reuters reports.
A common job for cowboys — for some, it's an all-day duty — is riding through herds to check on cattle health. With labor getting harder to find, Salah Sukkarieh, an Australian professor of robots, is developing a solar- and electric-powered four-wheel robot to handle the work, reports the Washington Post.
The miniaturization of farm machinery may be the ag-tech counter-trend that actually encourages smaller, more diverse farms.
In conjunction with the meeting of G-7 farm ministers, Japan's agriculture minister Hiroshi Moriyama discussed his idea "of replacing retiring growers with Japanese-developed autonomous tractors and backpack-carried robots," said Bloomberg.
Meatpackers may as well put up a sign: No robots need apply, says KUNC's Luke Runyon in a story on the limits of technology and the economics of meat plants.
Farmers have embraced power equipment for decades, part of the transformation of agriculture from small-scale farms that relied on manual labor to a highly mechanized sector with a much smaller workforce.
Researchers at Washington State University hope to test a robotic apple picker this fall that is able to work fast enough and gently enough to make it economically viable, says Capital Press.
A project at UC-Davis aims to develop a robotic cultivator that can do the equivalent of hand weeding, excising weeds as they sprout among rows of newly emerged crops.
Dairy farmers, short on labor, are adopting the use of robotic milking stations that allow the cows to decide when it's milking time, instead of the two or three mass sessions that have been common for decades, says the New York Times.