We might not have a full-bodied "I, Robot" driving our tractors yet, but several companies are developing fruit pickers and other machines to work the fields. On large fruit and vegetable enterprises, some think the best way to ease labor shortages and reduce the cost of food is the use of robotic field workers, and they apparently have a device that has a "touch gentle enough to pick strawberries." Mom would have been happy to have one of those back in my youth. She used to send us kids to the strawberry patch hoping we didn't eat all the good ones and throw the mushy ones at a brother or sister.
Some dairy farms now have those quarter-million-dollar robotic milking stanchions, and a few implement companies offer driverless tractors and wagons that must make a farm seem as if the Twilight Zone has truly arrived. Maybe we should at least put a life-size balloon blowup of a farmer waving in the cab just to make us feel at ease.
Precision farming, agricultural drones, and artificial intelligence are propelling farming into the Brave New World. Eventually, a farm operator will spend the majority of the day at a computer console, and robots of some type will be outside responding to every app command. Probably a good thing--after all, Dad would have appreciated some intelligence (artificial or not) from us kids working the farm, so maybe it's time to give robots their due. As I think back on our teen years as farm workers many decades ago, here are eight reasons why the new tech age might be preferable. A robot probably won't...
- fall asleep on the tractor while cultivating and take out ten feet of small, innocent cornstalks
- throw a dirt clod at a fellow crew worker who is eight rows over while walking the soybean field to pull weeds
- squirt its brother with warm milk from an upraised udder while hand-milking Bossy on a hot summer morning
- pound the old box radio bolted to the tractor fender because it shorted out during the Rolling Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction"
- "accidentally" pitch some warm, sloppy pig poo hard enough into the spreader so it splashes onto a fellow “manure manager”
- ask a younger brother to test the electric pasture fence by holding hands while grabbing the wire
- drive a load of hay from the field so fast the top bales fall off just because it wants to get to the Saturday night dance on time
- AND, a robot will probably not pull the field tractor over for a stop at the old mulberry tree that is growing in the fence row, probably won't reach up and grab a few ripe berries, probably won't look across the horizon to see the heat haze rise from green fields, the creeks meandering through cow pastures, the red barns sitting proudly in the distance. A robot probably won't take a deep breath and think how lucky it was to grow up on an old-fashioned farm where dogs barked, pigs rooted about in mucky lots, farmers stopped along dirt roads to speak with passing neighbors, and little kids threw rocks off the old wooden bridge on the dusty lane. Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto.
by dan gogerty