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    New Hands Free research set to take root this spring

    Posted 5 April 2023

    “We’re hoping to see both an increase in both soil regeneration and biodiversity, enabled by our Hands Free Farm robotics.”

    A Hands Free Farm tractor preparing a field in an aerial shot

    New research at Harper Adams University’s Hands Free Farm is set to take root this spring – and will examine how its autonomous vehicles can be used in strip cropping.

    The ground-breaking work of the Farm – which was the first in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground - is also set to feature in the Farm of the Future: Net Zero in Practice demonstration event on Thursday, April 13.

    Hands Free Farm Principal Investigator Kit Franklin will be among the guest speakers at the fully-booked event, delivered by Innovation for Agriculture (IfA), in partnership with The Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) and Harper Adams University.

    During a technical session, he will showcase the driverless tractors developed as part of the Hands Free Farm project, alongside demonstrations from FarmDroid and Small Robot Company.

    Kit will also explain to attendees how the autonomous technology used on the Farm, and its predecessor the Hands Free Hectare, will be used in the latest strip cropping trials.

    The technique involves cultivating a field where a variety of different crops are planted in strips – with wheat, barley and beans set to be grown side-by-side on the trial site.

    The use of alternating, tightly-packed plants in strip cropping has made the technique tricky for traditional farming machinery to tackle. However, Kit believes the latest trials may show a new way forward.

    He said: “Here at the Hands Free Farm, much of the equipment we use is small by modern farming standards.

    “However, once that equipment is combined with the precision of our autonomous systems, it means opens up new possibilities for strip cropping by machine.

    “We’re ready to go – with our autonomous machines’ routes plotted out in preparation.

    “Once sown, these trials will involve us working with academics from across the University, who will study how this new approach to strip cropping is working not only for the crops – but also more widely.

    “We’re hoping to see both an increase in both soil regeneration and biodiversity, enabled by our Hands Free Farm robotics.”

    Read more about the history of Hands Free Farming at Harper Adams University since 2019 here.

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