‘Hands-free’ farming project to harvest its first crop

The project has used drones and autonomous vehicles. Picture: Michael Gillen
The project has used drones and autonomous vehicles. Picture: Michael Gillen
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The end is in sight for a project designed to plant, tend and harvest a crop with no help from a human hand – or foot – which has used only drones and autonomous vehicles to carry out all processes required to grow the crop.

Harvesting of the spring barley at the “Hands Free Hectare” project run by Harper Adams is now on the cards – and the team conducting the experiment yesterday said it was pleased with the results so far.

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Kit Franklin, the agricultural engineering lecturer who leads the project, said: “The crop has done really well; it’s nearly matured and looking like it’s going to yield quite well.

“Obviously we do have the misses where the tractor wasn’t quite driving straight when we were drilling it but I think it’s going to yield reasonably well.”

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With work currently under way on the combine, Franklin added: “The combine is using very similar systems to the ones that we established on the tractor that we used for spraying, drilling and rolling our hectare. There are a large number of actuators to move and control all of the systems on the combine which have had to be fitted.”

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However the project had not been totally without hitches – and the time required to move guidance equipment form one vehicle to another had caused delays to the first spray.

The team’s agronomist, Hutchinsons’ Kieran Walsh, said that disease levels had been low as the crop had been drilled later than expected.

However he said that not being able to walk the field himself had been one of the major challenges in the projects.

“For me this has been one of the most challenging parts of the project, as I get a feel of what crops are doing when I walk through a field,” said Walsh.

“With our hands-free crop I’ve studied the scout video footage very closely to determine the weed levels and disease on the crop.”

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