Improving technology, coupled with the difficulty of sourcing seasonal labour, has led to a significant investment for Fram Farmers member Home Farm Nacton in Suffolk.
The organic fresh produce farm has taken delivery of a Robotti 150D from Danish manufacturer Agrointelli, the first robotic tractor to be fully operational on a farm in the UK.
Producing both organic and conventional vegetables, including leeks, brassicas, onions, red beet, potatoes, fodder beet, sugar beet and cereals, across 1940ha, Home Farm was looking for ways to adopt more advanced technology into the business, and the Robotti 150D ticked all the boxes.
“Through our Fram Farmers membership, I heard about Robotti from Gordon Cummings, Fram’s machinery manager, who had been looking into the use of robotics in the fresh produce sector for some 2 years,” explains Andrew Williams, farm director at Home Farm. “Gordon put us in touch with the team at Agrointelli, who have been enormously helpful and knowledgeable.
“By January, I had approval from Home Farm’s board of directors, who were easily convinced that this was the right step forward. From a business point of view, we are confident that this is where the future lies,” he continues.
“A large amount of our produce is organic, so we are increasingly limited in how we can control weeds. Mechanical weeding is repetitive work, as is manual weeding, and sourcing seasonal, overseas labour is becoming increasingly difficult. We wanted to future-proof the farm and Robotti is perfectly suited to our set-up.”
The Robotti 150D has now been in operation on the farm since mid-April, weeding a number of vegetable crops using a harrow attachment. According to Agrointelli, this is one of 50 robots which will be working in Europe by the end of the year.
“It can be in operation 24 hours a day, so there is a long window of opportunity for it to make a difference in the crucial weeding stages of the crops, fitting well into our cropping plan. It does exactly what we need, moving soil in the early stage of growth with guaranteed precision.” Says Andrew.
“It will initially be used for weeding this year, but we also plan to use it for topping and drilling in the future, maybe even transplanting or – who knows?”
Designed and manufactured by Denmark-based Agrointelli, Robotti 150D is autonomously controlled by GPS via an onboard computer, not depending on a human driver, instead following a pre-programmed planned route in the field.
The model at Home Farm has two Kubota 75 HP Diesel or bio-fuel engines. The left engine propels the machine and powers the conventional three-point hitch, meaning it can be fitted with standard implements and perform multiple tasks in the field throughout the season. The right engine drives the PTO. Each engine takes 110 litres of fuel, which is enough for the machine to run continuously for approximately 24 hours.
The accuracy lies in the GPS mapped field, with Robotti taking the same exact lines every time,” explains Frederik Rom, Agrointelli sales manager. “It is equipped with RTK GPS, so the set up on any farm is simple. It took approximately 10 minutes to map a 4-acre field at Home Farm, and a further 10 minutes to log the weeding plan into the system. It is important for this to be accurate from the start, as it will determine reliable performance,” adds Frederik.