Farmers Embrace Robots to Tackle Labor Crisis and Costs

At the recent DLG-FieldTage event in Erwitte, Germany, Future Farming facilitated a critical discussion with two German arable farmers on the burgeoning role of field robots in modern agriculture. The debate underscored the necessity of autonomous robots to maintain profitability in organic farming, despite the initial hurdles that come with integrating such advanced technologies.

In collaboration with the trade fair organization DLG, Future Farming also conducted a comprehensive workshop that delved into the technological advancements of field robots, their availability, and practical experiences from the field. The event culminated in a public debate where two experienced arable farmers shared their firsthand encounters with these robotic assistants.

Maximilian Hack, who operates Bio Feldgemüse Antoniushof in Bobenheim-Roxheim, manages a diverse 180-hectare farm cultivating crops such as peas, winter wheat, onions, and carrots. Hack has been using the AgXeed AgBot for a year, clocking in 1,200 operating hours. His primary motivation for adopting robotics is the increasing difficulty in finding skilled tractor drivers and the rising labor costs associated with them. “We want to perform tractor tasks as autonomously as possible,” Hack explained. “Autonomous work is often more precise—unlike a tractor driver who might drive faster than is good for the quality of the work.”

Hack utilizes the AgXeed for relatively straightforward tasks like tilling, harrowing, and cultivating, but he remains cautious about using it for more complex operations such as weeding. “There’s still too little control over whether the weeder performs well from a distance. Too much can go wrong with significant consequences for the crops and yield,” he noted. Additionally, setting up the robot per field and task is time-consuming, which makes it less practical for smaller fields. “Driving along contours is still not perfect and requires more improvement,” Hack added, emphasizing the need for further technological advancements.

On the other side of the debate was Jan Wilhelm von der Ohe, who runs the organic farm Heidehöfe von der Ohe in Bokel-Sprakensehl. His 120-hectare farm grows a variety of crops, including grains, consumption potatoes, and sugar beets. Von der Ohe initially used the FarmDroid FD20 for sowing and weeding but encountered several issues that led him to discontinue its use after two years. “The robot had many error messages, which consumed a lot of time,” he explained. The varying soil types on his farm caused the robot to wobble, affecting seed placement and subsequent weeding operations. “You need an extremely flat seedbed as a precondition,” he added.

Von der Ohe has since shifted to using the Farming Revolution Farming GT weeding robot, which has proven to be more efficient. “We learned to choose specialized tools and robots. An autonomous tractor with a weeder will never perform as well as a robot designed entirely for its task,” he stated. This specialization has allowed him to better manage the logistical challenges of organic farming, particularly in controlling costs and maintaining competitiveness with conventional growers.

The experiences shared by Hack and von der Ohe highlight the evolving landscape of organic farming, where the integration of autonomous robots is becoming increasingly essential. While the road to full automation is fraught with challenges, the precision and efficiency offered by these technologies present a promising future for sustainable and profitable farming practices.

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