Robo-tractors, cow psychoanalysis: The world of farmyard innovation

To cope with dramatic change, farmers are innovating in surprising ways.

by Stephen Jones

There is nothing initially remarkable about a 35-hectare plot of farmland, roughly six miles north east of Telford. Round hedgerows bisect irregular fields holding – depending on the time of year – winter wheat, beans or spring oats. 

A small, lime-green single-seater combine harvester and two blue open-seat tractors move in precise lines up and down the landscape. These are common crops, drilled, fertilised and harvested using conventional farm machinery. But look again and you’ll notice something odd. The tractors appear to be driving themselves.

When it opened in 2019, Hands Free Farm was a world-first. Funded by Innovate UK, this three-year collaboration between Harper Adams University, Precision Decisions, Farmscan AG and the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre aims to produce three cycles of crop without a person having to set foot in the field.

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