Increasing mechanisation is a concern for labourers and governments especially in Third World countries. Even the introduction of computers, harvesters and earth-moving equipment had created tensions in Kerala over the last few decades. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotic science make advances it is predicted even robots would start taking up the jobs being done by labourers. Kerala, which witnessed high movement of workforce for over half a century outwards, is now witnessing an influx of labourers from other parts of India. Though it is said Bengali harvest songs could be heard on the farmlands in Kerala of late, there is a likelihood of robots taking centre stage in farming activities. An indication of the things to come is evident at California in the US.
All you get in a store at San Carlos in California is fresh robot-grown leafy vegetables! California-based Iron Ox, a company incorporated in October, took the path-breaking move to use robots and opened new vistas in the world of agriculture. After human farmers sow seeds, technology takes over as these smart machines water the plant, apply manure and transplant the crops.
The soil-less hydroponic farming system is followed to cultivate vegetables where in the crops grow in a water-based nutrient rich solution. The plants are grown in a specially-made laboratory that has facilities to set seasons according to the needs of the plants. For example, the cultivation of baby lettuce is quite rampant in a place where the weather conditions are quite different from San Carlos. But a conducive climate is created in the lab for the robots to grow the crops.
Cultivating Kashmiri apples in Kerala after setting the Kashmiri climate in the southern state is also quite possible! AI makes it happen. Through AI, the amount of water and manure required for the growth of each plant is gauged and a beneficial atmosphere is created. For now, human farmers have to sow seeds but robots with AI brains would step in to take care of the plants.
The robot-grown leafy veggies from the Iron Ox farm reach the store once in a week. Three varieties of greens – red-veined sorrel, Genevieve basil and baby lettuce – were grown in the first phase. These leafy vegetables are purely organic and they have never been touched by humans and soil.
But the robot-grown produce comes at a price. You will have to shell out the Indian equivalent of Rs 170 for 55 grams of red-veined sorrel. Four baby lettuce will cost you nearly Rs 340 and Genevieve basil comes with a price tag of around Rs 200. Despite the high price, the demand for such veggies is only increasing.
Though the robot-induced cultivation is done on an experimental basis, this method of cultivation could be followed when there is acute labour shortage in future, says Iron Ox officials.
Currently, 30 percent more vegetables are produced in robot farms compared to the quantity grown in one acre of land, claims Iron Ox. Robotic farming assumes significance at a time when there are reports of climate change, spurt in world population and labour shortage. Robot farmers may rule the roost in farming in the future.