According to a recent article from the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN), technology is becoming more and more integrated on the farms and ranches of Nebraska.

Two dairy farms in the state — Demerath Farms in Plainview and Brett Beavers’ farm in Carleton — now employ robots to feed, milk and care for their cows, according to A-FAN.

Robotic dairy operations give farmers more control over their schedules and more time to do the things they couldn’t get to before — cleaning stalls more often, for example — and it eases shortage of skilled labor in the industry, A-FAN said.

“Procedures with the robot are the same procedures that happen with a traditional dairy operation, except it’s a robot doing it all — cleaning the cow, attaching the cups on the udder, feeding, monitoring cow health, and more,” said Rod Johnson, director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association and senior industry-relations manager for Midwest Dairy Association.

Johnson said that when it comes to milking, the farmer gets a lot of additional information than a traditional milking provides.

“The robots are testing the milk, the temperatures, weighing the cow and feeding them. The feed robot is called Juno,” Johnson said. “It pushes the feed up to the cow and makes sure the cows can reach it at all times. It really ups the information and technology on the farms where it’s in use.”

Kim Clark, dairy educator with Nebraska Extension, said the robots provide significant aid to the farmers.

“Milking is a 365-day-a-year, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job, so there’s really no break for the dairy farmer,” Clark said. “One of the biggest reasons for having these robots is time, so the farmer can devote more time to caring for his animals and their overall health. But it’s also been difficult to get labor on the farms — labor that knows how to milk the cows or has any animal experience and background.”

Beavers, who started his 240-cow robotic dairy near Carleton, thanks to a tour of robotic dairies that A-FAN took him on, said the robots have allowed him the flexibility to engage more with his family.

“On all the farms I’ve toured, everyone said it’s life-changing,” Beavers said. “You’re still going to put in the hours that you do in a traditional setup, but those hours are now flexible. So now I can help coach my kids’ T-ball team because we can work around our family’s schedules.

University of Illinois Extension educators recently discussed the future of drones and robotics in agriculture, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and other robotic vehicles that are becoming an important tool for agriculture.

But, the educators said, many people still have questions about the safety of drones, about how farmers are using UAVs on their farms, and what kinds of regulations exist in order to use these new technologies.

Dennis Bowman, a University of Illinois Extension educator and expert in agricultural technologies, said there is much interest from agriculturalists in UAV technology because of the opportunity to see a “bigger picture” of what’s going on in their fields. Although crop scouts may be able to see problems while walking through acres of corn early in the season, he said, it becomes more difficult to detect problems across the field later in the season.

“When the corn is up over your head, it’s hard to see what’s going on throughout the entire field,” he said. “The opportunity to get this picture from the air, to be able to see what’s going on at the far end of a 120-acre field that’s not easily visible from the road, you can do a better job of seeing all the things that might be going on.”

Bowman said drone technology is already allowing farmers to see areas of the field showing problems such as nitrogen deficiencies, weed problems and the extent of those problems, and impacts of drainage issues in a field.

“All of these are in these aerial images,” he said. “Documenting things that happen during the year, a historical perspective of the crop development throughout the season, we can add to the data set.”

Girish Chowdhary, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at University of Illinois and an expert in field robotics and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), said that UAV refers to aircraft that does not have a person inside and is flown by an operator using a remote control, or an aircraft that glides or floats.

UAS, he said, refers to the combination of the aircraft, a communication interface, the operator, and any other support system that helps the unmanned aircraft can do something useful.

“UAS made popular during early 2000s, but UAV have been used for a long time,” Chowdhary said. “UAS have become more feasible and more practical in the early 2000s as computers became smaller and more powerful.”

Chowdhary said the next frontier of UAV and UAS technology is ground robots and drones working together to tackle problems in fields such as weeding, fertilizing or sampling the plants.

“The real game changer will be when drones start working with autonomous ground equipment — small robots that can go under the canopy,” he said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the time with problems, by the time they’re visible in the canopy, it is often too late,” he said. “Ground robots that are small enough to drive between the rows and go under the canopy can provide a different perspective on what’s going and potentially work in tandem with the drones to more quickly find the problems and their causes.”

Published July 30, 2017

Credit: http://www.theindependent.com/news/ag_news/robots-bring-the-future-to-nebraska/article_18f55638-740b-11e7-adfd-57ef08033602.html

Photo Credit: Kimm Anderson/St. Cloud Times