Is the Filled Robot Farming Future a Nightmare or a Utopia?


Picture it: Colossians, gas-powered robots bulldoze acres of homogeneous farmland beneath the black sky spewing pollution. All the trees were cut down and no animals were seen. Pesticides are sprayed too much because people no longer go to the farm. The machines do their jobs – produce a lot of food to feed the growing population – but it’s not without ecological costs.

Or, imagine the future: tiny robots cultivate mosaic designs of many different plants, moving around trees, streams, and wildlife in the natural landscape. It is powered by renewable energy sources, such as the sun, wind, or perhaps water. Agrochemicals are a thing of the past, because robots help the ecosystem stay cohesive, so pests and superweed are hidden. It is a futuristic Garden of Eden, complete with blue skies, green pastures, and clean air.

Who in the world do you want your food to come from?

These are the two futures envisioned by Thomas Daum, an agricultural economist at the University of Hohenheim, who works on food security and sustainable farming in places like Uganda and Bangladesh. In July, he published a thought piece on Trends in Ecology & Evolution which sets out twin visions of an ecological utopia or dystopia in an effort to discuss how the agricultural technological revolution — also known as agriculture 4.0 — can shape our future.

Courtesy of Natalis Lorenz
Courtesy of Natalis Lorenz

“Farming today needs to change,” said Daum, who is concerned that the disruptive effects that agricultural technology has had on the environment have not been given enough attention. Climate change mitigation strategies outlined in the Treaty of Paris cannot be answered if we do not change how we grow food. “Even if you change all the other sectors,” he said, “if you don’t change agriculture, we will also miss the targets.”

Even in a world without many farming robots, many farming methods are already changing the environment. “Agriculture is really a deliberate shaping of the ecology of a specific area,” says Emily Reisman, a geographer of human nature at the University of Buffalo. We took wildlife, lowered the soil, and cleared the land to make more food grow, as well as chemical sprays to prevent pests and diseases.

If we add already agricultural technologies to that mix, well, it will get worse. Machines such as tractors, harvesters, and drones that track the plant generally need to control environments in order to operate efficiently, so unpredictable factors must be eliminated as much as possible in industrialization. -uma. This can mean year after year of monocropping at the full field level with little change in growth, all ripening at the same time, and the frequent use of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides to ensure consistency. Standardization is a consequence of our need to mobilize agriculture, according to University of Rhode Island sustainable food system scientist Patrick Baur. “That’s farming and the agro-ecosystem and the whole farming process that is molded to meet the needs of the machine,” he said.

The environmental sustainability required for industrialized agriculture has a major impact on the loss of biodiversity, the diversity of plants and animals necessary to maintain a balanced ecosystem. Biodiversity protects water quality, moderates global temperatures by trapping carbon in the soil (rather than in the air), and ensures that crops and natural predators have insects to pollinate to reduce their presence. of pests. “Machines significantly reduce the diversity of insect life, microbial life, and plants and animals,” says Baur, because much of it needs to be cleaned for them to run optimally.

But why must machines to make food? This is an economic issue. In order to sustain the ever -increasing demands of a growing population, agriculture needs more work. Food is also cheaper than ever, forcing farmers to produce high yields with low incomes. As a result, if farm workers make less money and leave the industry for better payment options, farmers may be more likely to resort to mechanization to fill the gap.



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