Agriculture is susceptible to the cost and scarcity of labour. And making cultivation practices more efficient and sustainable is critical. Robs4Crops is a vital catalyst in accelerating high-tech robotics and automated technologies in the European food and farm industry. Building upon the existing agricultural machinery, standards, and best practices, the 4-year project will shape and deliver a flexible and modular, fully autonomous system ready for large-scale commercial trials. The trials will be conducted in partnership with commercial farms and business leaders from France, Greece, Spain, and The Netherlands. Robs4Crops will significantly reduce farmers' dependency on hired labour, increase safety, reduce the use of inputs and the overall carbon footprint of food production.
This newsletter issue focuses on sustainable agriculture and the role that digital innovation plays in this. What is Robs4Crops’ view on this subject?
The most important challenge in European agriculture is the cost and scarcity of labour. While the cost of labour affects the profitability of farming, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that the scarcity of labour threatens the very existence of our food supply chains - from farm to fork. Growers across Europe are reporting limited access to labour. Fields of fruits and vegetables have been left unharvested as thousands of seasonal workers have been unable to reach farms that rely on their work while the virus has struck down others.
Due to coronavirus, robotics and farm automation technologies have seen a significant spike in interest and investment, marking the start of a structural change in food and farming. But, for the most part, commercial robotics is still mainly unexploited.
Robs4Crops aims to address and resolve the organizational and technological challenges associated with robotic farming's widespread adoption. By building upon the existing agricultural machinery, standards, and best practices, the project will shape and deliver a fully autonomous system, ready for large-scale commercial trials. Robs4Crops' flexible and modular new-generation system will greatly reduce the dependency of farmers on hired labour, increase safety, and reduce the use of inputs and the overall carbon footprint of food production. The project will focus on the most demanding and repetitive field operations, namely mechanical weed control and spraying against pests and diseases.
How does Robs4Crops contribute to sustainalising the agriculture sector?
Collaboration is one of the most vital, but overlooked ingredients for growing a sustainable, healthy and resilient agricultural sector. A critical part of Robs4Crops differentiation is our ‘coral reef-like’ ecosystem. We enable all the different private and public players (e.g., farmers, retailers, regulatory bodies, technology providers, citizens) to act autonomously in the co-creation, starting from the demonstration, testing, and piloting of robotics and AI-fuelled solutions in the field; then by providing incentives for them to take steps towards wider adoption of such solutions. Last but not least, we propose the industry’s most comprehensive robotics system; in a way, it serves as an “innovation sandbox”, easily scalable system to cover an ever-expanding range of use cases and applications.
Robs4Crops and SmartAgriHubs share the same values and objectives. How Does Robs4Crops connect with the SmartAgriHubs project?
Our joint mission is to mainstream digital agriculture, providing a safe testing ground to iterate further and innovate within a nurturing ecosystem. An ecosystem that leaves no one behind.
The intention here is to offer a dynamic and vibrant meeting point of encounter for diverse ecosystem participants to create and capture value for themselves, starting from farmers, SMEs, and DIHs. We share a strong commitment to fuel the transition of our food systems towards more resilient and sustainable models. Robotics and AI-driven agricultural solutions can help make this happen.
What opportunities do you see for (more) synergy between the projects?
Although at the early stage of the project, we already find plenty of synergy and strong alignment between the two projects in the near future. The similarities in stakeholder groups and thematic interests, provides a starting point for joint action. To benefit from individual experiences, it is important to share lessons and help harness research and innovation potential. This will allow us to be more responsive to innovation and challenges, ensuring that we are learning from each other’s success, as well as from the potential difficulties that each of our projects is facing.
Our approach is participatory and co-creative; to this end, we see co-creation sessions, demonstration activities and cross-visits as an opportunity for continuous collaboration with SMEs and DIHs in SAHs vast ecosystem.
Moreover, we see the establishment of collaboration network between SmartAgriHubs and Robs4Crops as a starting point and an opportunity for mainstreaming digital agriculture: collaborative business models and enabling farmers for the digital age.
This project has received funds from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 727520
What is ROBS4Crops' goal?
Robs4Crops aims to address and resolve the organizational and technological challenges associated with robotic farming's widespread adoption.