A New Model for Farm Management

Artificial Intelligence will enable a new model for farm management businesses

The farm management profession is something that has been created and enabled by mechanisation. The realisation that the activity of owning the land could be separated from the activity of farming the land was the mindset shift it needed to grow into the multi-billion dollar worldwide industry it is today, but it could not have happened without the mechanisation of farming.

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With mechanisation, it became possible for a much smaller group of people to manage much larger swathes of land. The natural inclination has been to follow that line of thinking to develop systems which enable an ongoing trend of more land being managed by fewer people. Farm machinery manufacturers, answering the needs of the market, have supplied ever bigger machines to enable this to happen.

Farm management, as it is today, relies on scale. By taking on the management of lots of farms, farm management companies are able to offer their customers access to greater purchasing power, greater marketing power and of course bigger machines operating more efficiently than they would be able to achieve farming on their own.

One of the fall outs of this trend, however, has been the productivity of smaller farms. Smaller farms are not appealing to large farm management businesses because they are awkward to service, and they do not make for an efficient use of machinery. As much as anything, this has to do with field shape and size. 

Small farms are therefore left with a difficult choice; continue to farm the land in hand with their own machines, or get contractors with bigger machines in but accept that, in many cases, they will be lower down the priority order than other bigger customers. Where small farms do manage the land in-hand, they are often extremely productive but the major sacrifice is time, as they are forced to adopt less efficient and more manual systems; with an opportunity cost for family labour included, the margins are often tiny. For some smaller farms, maintaining a more manual, lower-tech approach is an ethos driven decision too.

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Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will enable a new model of farm management. Robotics, powered by AI, will eventually have an impact on farms of all sizes, all over the world, but some of the quickest gains may be seen on smaller farms.

The main reason for this is that a farming system built around Robotics and AI will have accuracy as its uppermost concern, rather than speed. AI will enable the land to be managed in much more detail, enabling us to increase our understanding of how the soil interacts with the growing plant and what the best cropping plan might be given the research available on soil type, seed variety, predicted weather patterns, market movements and so on.

Small, smart machines using AI to support farm management decisions will also be more agile than the larger machines we see in farming today, enabling those awkwardly shaped or difficult to access fields to come back into production.

Perhaps most significantly, AI will enable a huge increase in the amount of profitable activity in which farmers engage. Too often, we realise at the end of harvest that parts of the field were not worth planting, given the yield we were able to achieve. AI analysis of the soil will allow decision making to get much smarter around this, leading to a scenario where we produce more food, more profitably and maybe even from less land. 

Robotics and AI will also enable a huge amount of freedom of time for the farmer, so that they can move from a lower level of productivity to a higher level of productivity, both as individuals and for their farms overall. Exactly what that higher level of productivity looks like is the subject of another blog!

If you would like to learn more about Small Robot Company, please visit www.smallrobotcompany.com.

If you would like to learn about our new business coaching programme for farmers, please visit www.smallrobotcompany.com/farmambition