THE ag tech revolution that has seen a surge in automation and robotic farming may be replacing some traditional work roles, but at the same time has the potential to open new employment opportunities, attract newcomers to agriculture and help farmers retain staff.
That was the view of panellists participating in open forum sessions at AgTeCH2019 in the Central Queensland rural centre of Emerald this week.
Swarm Farm Robotics managing director, Andrew Bate, whose Emerald-based company has developed agricultural robots for crop production, said the opportunity to create new employment opportunities and encourage staff retention in regional areas was a driving factor behind the business.
With seven ‘SwarmBots’ now in the field and a further 24 set to go, Mr Bate said those farmers who had been the first to take up the robots has also recognised the new workforce opportunities the technology provided.
“First adopters have told us they want this technology on their farms because they want to attract smart, young people and get more people engaged in the industry. This sort of technology engages them,” he said.
“Two weeks ago we visited some of our early adopters. The same conversation came up: “We want this technology on our farms, we want to engage people into our industry, this is the technology people are interested in”. To me that is inspiring.”
Mr Bate said when they began the SwarmFarm business they didn’t set out to automate agriculture, they set out to create new farming systems and better ways to grow crops.
He said the goal had always been for the business to be based in rural Australia and be a benefit to regional communities.
“It is important to us to bring more people into agriculture in new ways with new, exciting roles,” he said.
“We are a technology development company. When we started out everyone said we needed to be in a capital city because you can’t do ag tech in a rural town. We have proved that wrong.
“We employ 16 people at SwarmFarm. Half our team are guys who grew up on farms and have come back to the industry they love. We are bringing people back to rural towns. We are creating new jobs and new roles.
“When we started SwarmFarm we wanted to be an ag tech that is out in agriculture, not an ag tech in the city looking to reach some farmers.”
Southern Cross Drones research and development manager, John Coulombe, told the AgTeCH forum that drones, robotics and “high-tech gadgets” were helping stimulate young people’s interest in ag technology.
“That gets the conversation going with kids. I think it is going to cause a shift to kids realising farming is not just digging holes or driving tractors, it is more interesting and advanced,” he said.
John Deere Advanced Engineering Group senior staff engineer, Broughton Boydell, said businesses like John Deere delivered innovative tools that enhanced the profitability and sustainability of farms which, in turn, attracted people to agriculture.
“Automation, robotics and autonomy will make farms more profitable, and when there is money in farming it is a more attractive place to be,” he said.
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