Are automated farms the way of the future?
Dairy farmers don’t work easy hours. There is always work to be done, and some of that work often takes place early in the morning — cows don’t like to be kept waiting when they’re ready to be milked.
At a farm in Wallenstein, Ontario, Canada, the routine is a little different: Not only is the milking process automated, it doesn’t require a human at all. Cows line up to be milked all on their own.
The cows saunter up to an available machine that scans a chip in their collar, rinses them off, milks them, and then logs both the amount of milk and how frequently they are milked.
Many farms are becoming more automated, but typically require a human to connect the cows to the machines. In the case of the Rickeen Farms, the robotic milking machines do all the work and even send a text message to the farmers if there is a problem.
Dairy farmer Rick Shantz of Rickeen Farms reports that this type of automation makes for happier cows because they can be milked whenever they like rather than waiting for a farmer — you can tell because they “moo” less.
With robots taking over more and more human jobs, one might wonder what that means for job security. Will farmers be out of a job anytime soon?
"There are always dirty jobs for kids to do on the farm — whether the cows get milked by themselves or not...you still need a good work ethic," Brett Shantz told the CBC. Farmers are still needed to fix machines, manage farms, and provide a human presence for the animals.
The Rickeen Farms aren’t the only ones paving the way to the future. Matt Reimer, a Canadian farmer who grows canola and wheat on a 2,500-acre farm in Manitoba, built his own self-driving tractor. Despite not having any experience in computer science or robotics, Reimer figured out how to build one using a drone and some custom software. The whole project is open-source.
Reimer also chimed in about how automated machines affect the number of employees he needs: “Reimer said he used to rely on a farmhand who would sit around waiting to make those occasional trips. Now he can simply summon the tractor whenever the combine’s hopper gets full, freeing his employees to do other work that keeps the farm running more efficiently,” according to Postcapes.
It’s not a case of a machine taking over a worker’s job, but rather of being able to use employees more effectively. Farming is highly seasonable work and there are only so many qualified people available.
Watch the self-driving tractor in action here: