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Hi-tech farming robot is put to work weeding parsnip field

A hi-tech farming robot has been busy weeding a parsnip field during an East Anglian technology trial.

The Robotti is an autonomous tractor which navigates with a satellite-guided accuracy of within 2cm, using attachments for farm operations such as seeding, weeding and spraying.

The Danish-built robot is being trialled at Frederick Hiam, a Brandon-based fresh produce business with farms in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, growing root vegetables including parsnips, potatoes and onions.

Managing director Jamie Lockhart said he wanted to explore mechanised weeding as a way to reduce herbicide use within a "more preventative approach to weed control".

“We offered a 40-hectare block as part of the trial," he said. "The Robotti has drilled [planted] the parsnips on this block and weeded them on several passes.

"Initially it was about getting confidence in the accuracy and reliability of a fully autonomous system.

"In this regard the machine hasn’t put a foot wrong and, on several occasions, we left the machine running all night whilst weeding, and the accuracy was perfect."

Mr Lockhart, who is also the Norfolk county chairman for the National Farmers' Union, believes robots could work alongside manned machinery in the future.

"We don’t see the Robotti as a direct replacement for our manned equipment," he said.

"Our biggest asset remains our highly skilled team, who are essential to ensure consistent results with these high-input crops, but we absolutely see opportunities for the Robotti to work alongside these teams going forward.”

Tom Beach, a founder of UK machine distributor Autonomous Agri Solutions, said it plans to weed a greater area than it has seeded next year - meaning the robot will be weeding crops planted using conventional tractors.

“As we can’t guarantee the level of accuracy that the tractor has been able to achieve, we will be using a vision system to add a side-shift element to move the implement left and right within the constraints of the Robotti, to adjust for that inaccuracy," he said.

“The volumes of data available in farming is enormous. What I’m interested in, and what I’m looking for, is actionable data – what data will make a difference to a real decision we’re making on-farm?”


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