Agricultural robots could usher in a sustainable utopia or environmental disaster, warns scientist

July 13 (UPI) – Agriculture is already highly mechanized, and in the not too distant future, agricultural economist Thomas Daum predicts that entire farms will be run by robots.

In fact, robots are already deployed on farms.

According to Daum, robotization has the potential to transform the agricultural sector and usher in one of two realities: one utopian, the other dystopian.

Daum described these two opposing realities in a new journal, published on Tuesday. in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Daum’s Utopia features swarms of small robots working around the clock on small and medium-sized farms.

These farms feature a diverse rotation of nested crops seamlessly with the natural environment, including healthy habitat for a rich variety of native flora and fauna – organically grown crops buffered by meadows, streams and forests. .

“It’s like a Garden of Eden,” Daum, a researcher at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, said in a press release.

“Small robots could help conserve biodiversity and fight climate change in ways that were not possible before,” Daum said.

Utopian agriculture, according to Daum, would be too laborious, but swarms of smart little robots working in synchronicity 24/7 could make it work.

These robots would be able to more precisely deploy biopesticides and zap individual weeds with lasers, thus limiting the farm’s impact on the surrounding environment.

Crop yields would be high, while the farm’s environmental footprint would be minimal, Daum said.

Conversely, big but less sophisticated robots could be used to raze the earth and further develop modern monoculture agriculture.

With humans out of the way, these robots could spray pesticides and deploy fertilizers with greater intensities and on a larger scale.

While the reality is unlikely to look like sheer utopia or dystopia, Daum hopes his article will inspire scientists, engineers and policymakers to start thinking about how agricultural robots can be used in the future. sustainable way.

“Utopia and dystopia are both technologically possible,” he said. “But without the right policy safeguards, we could unwittingly end up in dystopia if we don’t discuss it now.”

Daum’s utopian farm would not only benefit the environment.

Farms that grow a variety of crops, not just high-yielding grains, are more likely to provide consumers with the full range of fruits and vegetables that a healthy diet requires.

Because small swarms of smart robots can be more easily adopted by small farmers, places like Asia and Africa may be better placed for utopian agriculture.

Conversely, agriculture in places like the United States, Russia and Brazil is already dominated by large farms producing low-value grains and oilseeds – places where large crude robots are more likely. to be introduced.

“While it is true that the preconditions for small robots are more difficult in these areas, even with large robots – or a mixture of small and large – we can take steps towards utopia with practices such as intercropping, hedges, agroforestry and moving away from large farms for smaller plots owned by large farmers, ”Daum said.

“Some of these practices may even be profitable for farmers once the robots can do the job, as previously unprofitable practices become profitable,” Daum said.

To ensure that agricultural robots are designed for sustainable purposes and deployed in an environmentally friendly manner, Daum said policymakers should use a combination of incentives, including subsidies, regulations and taxes.

“I think utopia is achievable,” Daum said. “It won’t be as easy as dystopia, but it is entirely possible.”