Hands Free Hectare

Automated machines growing the first arable crop remotely, without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground.

Over the years agricultural machines have been getting bigger with increasing work rates. This has suited the UK's unpredictable climatic working windows and reduced rural staff availability.

But with these larger machines, there are a number of issues, including reduced soil health through compaction, which hinders plant growth, as well as reduced application and measuring resolution, critical for precision farming, as sprayer and harvesting widths increase.

‚ÄčIn a world-first, members of Harper Adams University engineering staff, supported and led by precision farming specialist Precision Decisions Ltd, attempted to grow and harvest a hectare of cereal crops; all without stepping a foot into the field.

The project has been carried out over a 1ha block of spring barley using a sprayer from Precision Decisions and a drill from Simtech.

Kieran Walsh, an agronomist with Hutchinsons, has been working closely with the project, running the agronomy. A ground rover produced visuals for Kieran as well as collecting plant and soil samples. Using live streaming also enabled Kieran to pick certain plants and check specific areas for disease levels and crop growth stages.

The project has now has come to an end after a successful harvest! Martin Abell, mechatronics researcher for the industry lead, Precision Decisions, said: “This project aimed to prove that there’s no technological reason why a field can’t be farmed without humans working the land directly now and we’ve done that. We set-out to identify the opportunities for farming and to prove that it’s possible to autonomously farm the land, and that’s been the great success of the project."

For more information, go to the website: www.handfreehectare.com