Robots will be carrying out the majority of farm work by the middle of the century, according to the chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.
Speaking to the Oxford Farming Conference, David Gardner said developments in machinery and technology meant humans would not be doing simple jobs on farms within years.
And it would be a matter of “when, not if” humans would be completely replaced in doing more complicated tasks such as fruit and vegetable picking, laying beds, combining and other field work.
“The future for large parts of British agriculture is robotic,” he told delegates. “Milking cows was one of the more difficult things for robots to achieve in farming, but that technology has been commercially available for a decade.
“A lot of this science won’t be commercially-available for 20 or 30 years, but there will be a break-through.”
Gardner said Fendt was expected to launch its Guide Connect system, which would involve a driverless tractor running alongside a farmer-operated machine, by 2014.
He added it would not be much longer before operations became even further mechanised, with work being done on technology in the medical sector finding a place in agriculture.
“There are prosthetic hands being developed which have functions for farming,” he said. “Developments in prosthetic skins will help robots feel when they have picked fruit from trees.
“The next giant leap forward is machines that have no cab and one guy oversees everything from his pickup in the corner of the field.
“The final leap will be machines needing so little supervision that they don’t need a person and they can just receive alerts via text.”
But while Gardner predicted machines would be doing most, if not all work on farms within decades, he said a move towards mechanisation did not mean an end to small family farms.
“Many dairy producers who have invested in robotic milking systems are small family units,” he said.
“They want the technology to free them up from the long job of milking so they can do other jobs or have more of a life outside the farm.
“Mechanisation will help make farming easier, and help make the industry more appealing to young farmers who don’t want to spend their whole lives working on the farm.”