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Importance of Sustainable Agriculture

Discuss about the Application of Robotics in Sustainable Agriculture or Horticulture in Developing Countries.

Sustainable agricultural practices have been introduced in many parts of the world as it helps farmers to produce environmentally healthy food (Wezel et.al, 2014). One of the main goals of sustainable agriculture is to preserve the agricultural land by reducing the usage of pesticides and fertilizers that contains toxic chemicals. They also aim at protecting the biodiversity of a place by developing a healthy environment.  The major goal of sustainability is to produce crops that are safe for the consumers. They take into consideration the working conditions and the surroundings during farming. The aim is to reduce the level of exposure to pollutants, toxins and other hazardous materials (Charlton, 2018). For keeping up with the growing demand of food across the world, farmers have now started to depend on robotics. In developing countries, sustainable farming methods have gradually replaced the use of manual procedures (Feola et.al, 2015).

It has now become common for farmers to practice controlled traffic farming, where heavy machinery is used to traverses the same path of an agricultural land with precisional accuracy. The weight of the machines moving in the same path results in soil compaction (Hunt et.al, 2015). This is a phenomenon occuring across the world, where controlled traffic farming is practiced. Soil compaction, over the years have become a major problem in many agricultural lands across Australia. For reducing the impact of heavy machinery in the farmlands, lighter robots have to be used.


Australia, a country that gives importance to sustainability, uses herbicides to control weeds in borad acre farms. This excessive usage of herbicides has resulted in resistant weeds. Robotics enabled machinery helps in seeking the weeds out using infrared lights. The “weedseeker” is such a robot that helps in weeding. Countries where broad-acre farming is practiced, using these kind of techniques would help the farmers to a great extent. The shortage of skilled laborers in farming globally has led researchers to analyze the usage of robotics and automized equipment in activities such as weeding. Globally, the interest on robotics enabled vehicles for labor-intensive tasks have grown in the past few years. Robotic machinery has now been tested for harvesting crops such as apples in countries like Australia.

Another pertinent issue is the labor force used for farming. There were reports that the United States government tried for immigration sweeps with the intent of increasing the labor force to be used in farming, which has been on a steady decline. As an alternative, fleets of robots have been tried and tested to perform certain tasks such as planting seeds. These robots could be used to plant seeds at terrains where normal machines could not tread easily.

Use of Robotics in Agriculture

The Triple Bottom Line introduced by John Elkington measured the performance of big companies by taking into consideration the environmental and social impact (Laing et.al, 2017). The Triple Bottom line gives emphasis to the environmental factors while evaluating the overall performance of the company.  The Triple Bottom Line takes into consideration three factors, the Social sustainability, the environmental sustainability and the economic sustainability (Ahi and Searcy, 2015) while measuring the performance of the company. The social bottom line increases with civil and fair labour rules. The social responsibility takes into account as to whether a business will impact the job-growth of a location. Triple bottom line also takes into consideration the health risks of the workers and analyze whether the business operations impact the health of the community (Wise, 2016).. THe Case IH Autonomous tractor concept discusses about the usage of a tractor that could perform multiple tasks such as tilling, seeding and cartage. Only minimum number of operators would be required to control multiple machines using a laptop. Usage of ideas like the Autonomous tractor, weed detection drones and autonomous cattle feed mixers would be a great solution for labor shortages at broad acre farms. 

The Triple Bottom Line approach ensures that the sustainable agricultural practices follwed at farms have the least impact on the environment. It also establishes the fact that agricultural practices would be improved, if fewer natural resources were used while farming. By using the weedseeker, which is a robotic nozzle that uses infrared lights to detect green plants, farmers can reduce costs and herbicide resistance. Similarly, the Ball et al Robotic Machinery investigates the use of lightweight machines for controlling weed. These machines would help in controlling soil compaction. As environmental factors impact the Triple Bottom Line, adoption of these practices would help in coming up with better solutions to practice farming sustainably.

From the discussions made above, it could be understood how significant is the use of sustainability in farming. If effective care and research go into farming practices, it could be ensured that complete sustainability can be attained. The use of technology and robotics could also reduce the environmental impact of farming practices to a large extent. Especially in the case of soil compaction, the lightweight robot enabled machinery could be considered as excellent alternatives to address the issue of soil compaction. The more research goes into the study of robotics enabled farming, the more it would help farmers and farming practices to become sustainable. The Triple Bottom line could also be used to effectively to measure the role of sustainability during farming. It could be used as a tool to measure the sustainability of the produces that reaches the consumer (Bergerman et.al, 2016).

Challenges and Risks of Robotics in Agriculture

As discussed earlier, the main advantage of using Robotics in agriculture is that it reduces human labor to a considerable degree. But the activities carried out by robots while farming may not be devoid of risks. Farming is an activity that requires human intervention and supervision. The major drawback of large-scale automization of this industry is that there may be certain areas where human intervention may be necessary. There should be sufficient technology for robots to identify certain things like a fruit’s degree of ripeness. Similarly, for precision farming, better technology has to be introduced to identify the weeds. As simulations are carried out in controlled environments, the question remains how these robots would fare in real conditions, during harsh weather. It would always be challenging to train robots to identify their surroundings better for protecting the crops. There is always the risk of unexpected damages or injuries if robotics involve heavy machinery in farming.    


As a risk management strategy, risk assessment tools could be used to identify the risks in sustainable farming. In addition, as a protective measure, collaborative robots could be used to perform the tasks. Collaborative robots could be used to carry out the operations in close cooperation with a human. As farming activities require close supervision and human intervention, both humans and robots could work simultaneously to achieve the desired results. Repetitive tasks such as seeding and harvesting could be accomplished by robots, with a close interaction and supervision of robots.

Conclusion

In today's highly industrialized world, it is very important to give greater significance to environmental and social concerns. There has been a steady migration towards industrialized agriculture, which makes it mandatory for more stringent environmental and social concerns (Emmi et.al, 2014). Pertaining to agriculture, the major concerns have always been water pollution and the excessive usage of pesticides and fertilizers. The usage of robotics enabled farming, along with strict monitoring of the farming practices on the social, ecological and environmental impact, would help in attaining a more sustainable future.

References

Ahi, P., & Searcy, C. (2015). Assessing sustainability in the supply chain: A triple bottom line approach. Applied Mathematical Modelling, 39(10-11), 2882-2896.

Bergerman, M., Billingsley, J., Reid, J., & van Henten, E. (2016). Robotics in agriculture and forestry. In Springer Handbook of Robotics (pp. 1463-1492). Springer, Cham.

Charlton, C. (2018). Through the Lens: A Documentary Photography Project on Sustainable Agriculture in Central Texas (Doctoral dissertation).

Emmi, L., Gonzalez-de-Soto, M., Pajares, G., & Gonzalez-de-Santos, P. (2014). New trends in robotics for agriculture: integration and assessment of a real fleet of robots. The Scientific World Journal, 2014.

Feola, G., Lerner, A. M., Jain, M., Montefrio, M. J. F., & Nicholas, K. A. (2015). Researching farmer behaviour in climate change adaptation and sustainable agriculture: Lessons learned from five case studies. Journal of Rural Studies, 39, 74-84.

Hammer, J., & Pivo, G. (2017). The triple bottom line and sustainable economic development theory and practice. Economic Development Quarterly, 31(1), 25-36.

Hunt, J. R., Swan, A. D., Fettell, N. A., Breust, P. D., Menz, I. D., Peoples, M. B., & Kirkegaard, J. A. (2016). Sheep grazing on crop residues do not reduce crop yields in no-till, controlled traffic farming systems in an equi-seasonal rainfall environment. Field Crops Research, 196, 22-32.

Laing, T., Upadhyay, A., Mohan, S., & Subramanian, N. (2017). Environmental improvement initiatives in the coal mining industry: maximisation of the triple bottom line. Production Planning and Control.

Wezel, A., Casagrande, M., Celette, F., Vian, J. F., Ferrer, A., & Peigné, J. (2014). Agroecological practices for sustainable agriculture. A review. Agronomy for sustainable development, 34(1), 1-20.

Wise, N. (2016). Outlining triple bottom line contexts in urban tourism regeneration. Cities, 53, 30-34

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