Leaders keen to see farm robotics and “smarter” crops

Participants in a vision session like the idea of robots operating 
equipment 24/7 but still want people on the scene

Robotics, “smarter” crops, and equipment that’s easier to operate and maintain topped the wish list of 30 Saskatchewan agricultural leaders who recently participated in a “vision session” organized by the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute.

“Sessions like this are essential to ensure that our research is focused on producing the new technologies farmers want and need,” said Dave Gullacher, the institute’s president and CEO.

Forum participants — representatives from major producer groups as well as manufacturers and value-added processors — put forward dozens of suggestions when asked to identify agriculture’s innovation needs in the years ahead.

Many envisioned greater use of robotics in farm machinery that would allow 24/7 harvesting with fewer workers. However, participants did not go so far as to endorse entirely driverless machinery. They also wanted more research on new and improved varieties of high-margin crops, and using genetic engineering to develop crops that provide for each other, such as one crop providing readily available nutrients or pesticides for another crop coming next in the rotation. There were also numerous calls for farm equipment that is easier to operate and maintain, but is also more efficient.

Participants also would like to see better access to training, including machinery operator training; unbiased advice to deal with the increasing complexity of the industry; and farming practices that have less of an environmental impact and ensure crop varieties are viable in the long term, even under changing climatic conditions.

“This isn’t just a wish list for the agriculture industry,” said Gullacher. “These research goals will define a major part of the future of Saskatchewan and the world.”

The institute also looked back on the past and cited the “Big Four” innovations that have moved Prairie agriculture forward in the past 35 years.

“To see where you are headed, you need to know where you’ve been,” said Gullacher.

The Big Four are air-drills, tractors, sprayers and combines.

“These are the critical pillars of grains and oilseed production in Saskatchewan,” said Gullacher. “We have evolved to the point where we have roughly 26 million tonnes of agricultural products harvested in this province every year, all of which can be traced to the success of these tools.”

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