Robots are way cool. Anyone three or older knows that. And agricultural robots were among the first envisioned civilian applications of GPS. When Brad Parkinson went to Stanford in 1984, one of the earliest demonstrations he and his bright new students conducted was fully automatic GPS control of farm tractors on a rough field to an accuracy of 2 inches. Now it’s a bazillion global industry. See “Agriculture robots market projected to reach US$5.7 billion by 2024” for a few figures on that.
The market report underpinning that story contained a couple unquantified yet provocative assertions. Here’s one: Rural flight to the cities is a big force in this market’s growth.
“Progress . . . has primarily driven a growing number of people towards the urban areas and the suburbs. . . . This, in turn, has caused a twofold need for the incorporation of agriculture robots in several countries. Firstly, the growing global population — a lot of it being urban — is pressuring countries to increase food production while steadily reducing the hands available for the agriculture industry. Secondly, the overall land slotted for agriculture in nearly all countries is reducing, thanks to the burgeoning industrial sector and residential construction projects.”
I find this a bit chilling, a bit 1984-ish, and goodness knows we’ve got enough of that going on already. Will our future trips through the countryside, the shrinking countryside, take us through landscapes populated by nothing by smoothly chuffing engines? Will the term “bucolic” lose all meaning?
A second factor driving the agricultural robots market is “the increasingly accepted modes of corporate farming.” Now, I know that multitudes must be fed. Still, personally, I buy my food from small, local farmers as much as possible. It simply tastes better. That is indisputable. Arguments rage about whether it’s better for you; I believe that it is.
I hope the small farmers that my family and neighbors depend on benefit from GPS even though they don’t have huge expensive pieces of equipment. I’ll have to ask them next time I go on a visit. Meanwhile if any GPS and/or robotics manufacturers supply products to the artisanal, shall we say, as opposed to the corporate side of farming, I’d like to hear from you.