In an unbelievable display of intellectual dishonesty, Medium published an article titled “The Rise of Farm Robots; Or why the miniaturisation of farm machinery will help encourage small, diverse farms”. Mechanization of agriculture is nothing new – in fact it is incredibly old. But despite what Medium would have believe, this latest batch of dirt digging droids could not come at a worse time for small farmers.
Rowbot fertilises soil, mulches weeds and sows crops
Agribotix drones ‘see’ how crops are doing and analyse growth data
HelloTractor wants to be the Uber of farm machinery
BeanIoT is a small sensor put in silos to monitor temperature and spoilage
The article claims these small robots may trigger the rise of smaller, more diverse farms, counteracting the recent trend towards ‘go big or get out’ industrial agriculture. They say farming is a profession of hope. Well we hope readers recognize bull-dust when they see it.
1: Many small farmers are subsistence producers: This means they work to feed themselves. What little surplus the farm produces is turned into cash to pay bills and purchase necessities. Are we to believe that these people will have the capital required to automate? No. Instead it will be farming conglomerates who can afford these upgrades for their 10,000 acre operations. Once they realize the efficiency gains of automation, the big farms will have even more money available to buy up the little guy. Small farmers are amalgamated into factory farming operations and coerced via contractual obligations to buy particular feeds and drugs – often settling for a tiny profit or even a loss. In 1967 there were over 1,000,000 pig farms in the USA. As of 2002, there were 114,000. Industrial farming also increases the risk of disease (according to the CDC Center for Disease Control) and is a major contributor to environmental degradation. Concentration of ownership in the agricultural sector is not in the public interest.
2: The article claims the robots are ‘helpers’, not taking away jobs: We have heard this argument before. It is often used in debates around immigration e.g. “no one wants these jobs, so we had to import workers”. Agri-business corporations want you to believe that people are just too lazy to work. Instead they should improve the working conditions and pay. Perhaps they would even consider investing in training the next generation of farm workers? If we want to put this country to work – we should give them a career path in farming and feeding the nation, while allowing them the ability to feed themselves. But automation of agriculture is going to siphon all that wealth off to a few hardware manufacturers and leave the people to rot on the vine.
3: Farms are typically remote: Some of the best mechanics (or steel fabricators for that matter) I have ever met were farmers. They old-school fellers keep a bunch of spare parts in the shed and have no problem spinning a spanner to conduct some ‘in-field’ repairs. But how will they go about repairing Rowbot when a semiconductor blows out 200 miles from the nearest town. What about if that semiconductor is manufactured under licence in Osaka Japan. The point is that the service and support infrastructure for this type of machine is just not available.
4: What do we do with all the farm hands: Not even the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects farming to be a source of job growth going forward. But with over 761,700 agricultural workers at risk from automation, this is a scary trend. 760K people earning a living, paying taxes that contribute to the government and purchasing from local retailers. Mechanization of agriculture has reached a point of diminishing returns.