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Autonomous agriculture featured at Alberta conference

Autonomous agriculture featured at Alberta conference

A team from the United Kingdom planted and harvested a hectare of barley without physically operating equipment

By Diego Flammini
News Reporter

A robotic engineer from Harper Adams University in England showed Alberta farmers that it’s possible to produce a crop without ever climbing into a tractor or combine.

Jonathan Gill was the keynote speaker during the Farming Smarter Leadership Conference. He explained how his “Hands Free Hectare Project” team produced a hectare of spring barley while operating the machinery remotely.

“We were the world’s first to grow an entire crop without actually going into the field,” he told Global News yesterday. “We worked an entire area of land, a hectare, completely without having anybody in the driving seats or any agronomist on the ground.”

Canadian producers likened his research to a classic action movie franchise.

“It’s kind of scary, you get thinking of the terminator,” Craig Walsh, a farmer from Foremost, Alta, told Global News. “Not necessarily that, but now all of a sudden (the equipment) is running itself.”

The team transferred autopilot capabilities from a drone to an Iseki TLE3400 tractor and created a communication channel between the autopilot and the steering wheel to control the tractor.


A SimTech drill attached to the tractor performed the seeding and an automated Sampo Rosenlew 130 combine harvested the crop, which yielded about 4.5 tonnes of barley from the one-hectare plot.

If farmers don’t have to worry about operating their equipment, they’ll be free to perform other tasks, said Gill, adding the researchers hope to perform tests on a 100-hectare field.

“The idea in the future is to set the vehicles off from your main farm building and watch them go in their field,” he told Global News. “They could work together in larger fleets and swarms … It’s about allowing you to get to those other jobs that you just didn’t have time to do.”