Members of the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre will be on hand to lead the conversations
By Diego Flammini
The intersections of automation, robotics and agriculture will be explored in detail at the Farms.com Precision Agriculture Conference.
Autonomous tractors have become a popular discussion topic recently and robots could be an integral part of the agricultural landscape, according to Jim Brandle, CEO of the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre.
“Robots are coming,” Brandle told Farms.com today. “There are different parts of agriculture with different needs when you compare grain farming to animal agriculture to horticulture.”
In horticulture, a significant percentage of production cost is dedicated to labour, Brandle says. And when the increased minimum wage is factored into the equation, robotic developments in the horticulture industry could be a significant benefit.
But one of the challenges for the sector is attracting local manufacturers to the agricultural industry, Brandle said.
Ontario is home to almost 50 per cent of Canada’s total automation companies, according to Industry Canada. But 73 per cent of Canadian businesses import their automation equipment, according to the Information and Communications Technology Council.
The ag industry needs local manufacturers to produce robots in order for automation to be a viable option for producers, Brandle says.
“Right now, we’re innovation takers and we buy equipment from outside the country,” he said. “We spend a lot of time adapting equipment to work in short days and cold weather. If we want to take that next step and remain competitive, we need to build an automation base for agriculture (locally).”
Another challenge with regard to the use of robotics, Brandle says, is programming the equipment to handle the fruits and vegetables with care.
“They are biological items – they’re very different than an auto part,” he said.
Brandle is one of many great speakers scheduled to appear at the Farms.com Precision Agriculture Conference.
The event takes place Jan. 30 and 31 at the Best Western Lamplighter Inn in London, Ont.