Futuristic farming robots demonstrate a new era of food production

Farmdroid machine at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham

The Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham. With the Farmdroid machine are Ernest Doi, Michael Massingham, Jim Pamment, and Richard Perry - Credit: Brittany Woodman

The future potential of hi-tech driverless robots to take over manual farming tasks was put to the test in a Norfolk field.

The Norfolk Farm Machinery Club (Normac) held an event near Fakenham, which it said was the first specialist public demonstration of agricultural robotics in the county.

Around 200 people gathered to watch working displays of camera-guided hoes and driverless weeding, cultivating and spraying machines.

The 14 exhibitors included FarmDroid, which claims to be the world’s first fully automatic robot that can handle both sowing and mechanical weed control. The solar-powered robot uses a GPS signal to mark the placement of every sown seed, so it can subsequently identify and remove unwanted weeds.

The Normac robotic farm machine demonstration. With the Stout AgTech machine is Andrew Bailey of UK Planter Solutions

The Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham. Demonstrating the Stout AgTech machine is Andrew Bailey of UK Planter Solutions - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Camera-guided machines included US-based Stout AgTech’s smart cultivator, which uses "artificial intelligence and cutting-edge vision technology" to eliminate weeds and cultivate the ground in a single pass.

Norfolk exhibitors included Crop Angel, which specialises in the targeted spraying of crops using aerial drones.

Normac county organiser Chris Thomas said the event was driven by a growing interest in weed control technology which can address labour shortages and relies less on costly and ecologically-damaging weedkillers.

"We had a good number of people here who were seriously thinking about how they were going to manage their farms in the future," he said.

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"In five years' time, a lot more farmers will be buying this sort of equipment because of the shortage of labour.

"And, of course, now they are able to get various technology grants under the new government agricultural schemes, so that is another great incentive.

"It will start in the vegetable industry where there is a lot of manual labour required but, before long, circumstances will dictate that cereal growers, for instance, might not be able to use the chemicals they use now for weed control, so will have to resort to mechanical hoeing.

A Steketee machine at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham

A Steketee machine at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham - Credit: Brittany Woodman

"Agricultural machinery has changed so much over the years. It is all about computer technology now, and all the camera-guided stuff that goes with it.

"It is a completely different ball game, and there are some very sophisticated people doing this - the Stout machine is a very, very hi-tech machine which was designed by a NASA space engineer."

The machinery was demonstrated within a growing crop of maize in a field supplied by the Raynham Farm Company.

Harry Shepard and Chris Eglington of Norfolk drone firm Crop Angel, at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration

Harry Shepard and Chris Eglington of Norfolk drone firm Crop Angel, at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham - Credit: Brittany Woodman

The Farmdroid machine at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham

The Farmdroid machine at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham - Credit: Brittany Woodman

The Crop Angel drone at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham

The Crop Angel drone at the Normac robotic farm machine demonstration at Hempton, near Fakenham - Credit: Brittany Woodman