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Pumping up efficiencies in ag with autonomy

Those developing the technology say farmers will increasingly harness unmanned equipment to increase global productivity

By this point, the ag sector is getting used to watching the Dot Power Platform trundle various implements around farm show demo fields.

The technology is a sign of the future as farmers confront the challenge of producing more food with fewer resources, Wade Robey, executive director of Raven Autonomy, told viewers taking in the Ag in Motion Discovery Plus virtual farm show earlier this summer.

Autonomous ag equipment has garnered more and more attention in recent years, and developers say its efficiencies will be important as farmers are asked to produce more with less.

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The speaker argued that future needs for calories and protein could outpace the ability of exporters, such as Canada, to keep up with demand.

Current systems have, “worked well over the past few decades,” he said, “but we know we’re getting to a point where, as population grows, we’re simply not going to have the productive capacity to meet the demands of the world.”

That means it is necessary to produce more food, more efficiently, on fewer and fewer acres.

“We have to be more efficient and we have to be more economically profitable as we scale up our agricultural capabilities,” Robey said.

It’s a revolution that Robey’s company is positioning itself to be at the forefront of. Raven Autonomy has brought technologies such as guidance and steering, communication, machine and application control to market. Its AutoCart product is a software system that allows a farmer to monitor and operate a driverless grain cart, and the recently acquired Dot Power Platform is a mobile diesel-powered platform designed to work autonomously with a wide variety of implements.

“As we look to the future, we believe that on-farm automation is going to continue to increase,” Robey said. “We know labour shortages are going to persist. We know automation is going to become more and more important. As automation comes on farm, the need for connectivity, and the need for more integrated on-farm operations is going to become more and more critical.”

His company’s vision for the future includes manned and unmanned machines working collaboratively, co-ordinating activities within a field or across multiple fields. “It will allow the farmer or ag retailer to work on different tasks while other machines are working to the direction that they’ve put in place,” he said.

What this means for the farmer is improved productivity, efficiency and use of labour.

“It will be a better use of the ag input dollar, resulting in higher value per acre for the farmer and for the economy,” Robey said.

However, Robey doesn’t believe farmers will ever be taken out of the equation. “We believe farmers and ag retailers will always have a place in agriculture,” he said, “but as demands for higher and higher efficiency persist, we know that these organizations and individuals have to become more efficient. And that is where we believe autonomy will really play a role.”

Robey said Raven Autonomy is continuing to invest in its existing platforms. “We continue to build out the Dot platform,” he said. “We are going to bring more implements to that power unit to make it more persistent across the ag season. We’re continuing to evolve the perception technology. We see this technology to be not just important in AutoCart, but in auto till and auto spray — for use in traditional row crops, small grains but also in specialty crops as well.”

Robey thinks the future looks bright. He sees his company and others like it investing and collaborating to bring these new technologies to market. “There is no better mission than being part of bringing food, and bringing protein energy to a hungry world,” he said.

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