If you will forgive the outburst of alliteration, the harvesting of a “hands-free hectare” at Harper Adams University has made headlines all around the world, in the technology press as well as the farming press. A crop of Shropshire barley was sown, fertilised, sprayed and harvested by robot tractors, drones and a robot combine harvester, without a human being setting foot in the field.
The yield was low and the cost was high, but the point was made. The mechanisation of agriculture is progressing rapidly towards the point that some crops can be grown with almost no labour. In one sense this is merely the culmination of a trend that began with oxen pulling ploughs instead of people wielding hoes, then continued through the invention of threshing machines, tractors and combine harvesters.