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Research

Economics of swarm robotics in UK agriculture

Abstract

Swarm robotics has the potential to radically change the economies of size in agriculture and this will impact farm size and structure in the UK. This project uses a systematic review of the economics of agricultural robotics literature, data from the Hands Free Hectare (HFH) demonstration project which showed the technical feasibility of robotic grain production, and farm-level linear programming (LP) to estimate changes in the average cost curve for wheat and oilseed rape from swarm robotics.

Description

Robotic agriculture is widely predicted by researchers, academics and business (see for example, Robotic Business Review, 2016; Shamshiri et al., 2018; Duckett et al., 2018), but rigorous economic analyses of the economic feasibility of robotic farms are rare. One common element of most visions of robotic agriculture is that removing human equipment operators will lead to a radical redesign of agricultural mechanization. With no human operator, the economic motivation for the ever-increasing size of farm equipment almost disappears and farming with swarms of smaller robots become an attractive alternative. Economic analysis of crop robotics is rare primarily because it is early days for this technology.

A timely ex-ante economic analysis is needed to: 1) help engineers and entrepreneurs identify the most profitable crop automation alternatives, 2) guide farmers in their decisions about using crop robotics, and 3) inform policy makers about the costs and benefits of crop robotics. The methodology of this study uses information gathered in a systematic review of the economics of agricultural robotics literature, data from the HFH demonstration project which showed the technical feasibility of robotic grain production, and farm-level linear programming (LP) to estimate changes in the average cost curve for wheat and oilseed rape from swarm robotics. 

Funding Body

Harper Adams University

Lead Organisation

Harper Adams University

Publications

Lowenberg-DeBoer, J., Huang, I.Y., Grigoriadis, V.; Blackmore, S. (2019) Economics of robots and automation in field crop productionPrecision Agriculture, pp 1-22.

Lowenberg-DeBoer, J.; Behrendt, K.; Godwin, R.; Franklin, K. (2019) The Impact of Swarm Robotics on Arable Farm Size and Structure in the UK. Contributed Paper prepared for presentation at the 93rd Annual Conference of the Agricultural Economics Society, University of Warwick, England, 15-17 April, 18 pages.

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