The first robotic tractor to operate commercially on a UK farm is hard at work weeding vegetables in Suffolk.
A Robotti 150D from the Danish manufacturer Agrointelli was bought for around £150,000 by Home Farm Nacton, a conventional and organic vegetable business which was looking to improve technology and reduce its reliance on seasonal labour.
The tractor is controlled by GPS via an onboard computer and follows a pre-programmed planned route in the field. The model at Home Farm has two Kubota 75HP diesel or biofuel engines, each of which takes 110 litres of fuel which is enough for the machine to run continuously for around 24 hours.
Home Farm produces a range of crops including leeks, brassicas, potatoes, sugar beet and cereals across 1940ha. Farm director, Andrew Williams said his board was confident robotics are the future for farming.
“A large amount of our produce is organic, so we are increasingly limited in how we can control weeds,” he said.
“Mechanical weeding is repetitive work, as is manual weeding and sourcing seasonal overseas labour is becoming increasingly difficult. We wanted to future-proof the farm, and Robotti is perfectly suited to our set-up.
“It does exactly what we need, moving soil in the early stage of growth with guaranteed precision. It will be used for weeding this year, but we also plan to use it for topping and drilling in the future.”
Obstacles such as telegraph poles or trees are logged at the programming stage and any unexpected obstacles cause Robotti to stop in its tracks for safety reasons. An online portal follows the machine’s progress and provides real-time updates.
Agrointelli sales manager Frederik Rom said the set up on any farm is simple.
“It took approximately 10 minutes to map a four-acre field at Home Farm, and a further 10 minutes to log the weeding plan into the system,” he said.
“It is important for this to be accurate from the start as it will determine reliable performance.”
Mr Williams added: “I can leave Robotti working in the field quite happily, knowing that it will send me an alert if there is an issue or if something unexpected is in its way,” he said.
“It has front and rear cameras which I can view at any time and I’m able to check the progress of crop growth at any location within that field without having to walk to see it.”
Home Farm Nacton is largely light land, but development trials in Denmark indicate the equipment also works well on heavier land and is particularly effective with bed systems and row crops.