Le 26/03/2024

The Next Generation of Field Crops Robots Can Help Multiply the Farmer

Chuck Baresich of Haggerty AgRobotics Company shares his insights about the exciting new technologies specifically designed for the commodity crops market. Plus, a deeper look at six machines from the World FIRA 2024 event.

If there’s anyone who has a pulse on the field crops market and the technologies that seek to disrupt it, it’s Chuck Baresich. As a grower, entrepreneur and automation enthusiast, Baresich has his hands in nearly every part of the process.

For starters, Baresich and his brother, Justin, farm 2,000 collective acres of corn and soybeans. They also own Haggerty Creek Ltd., an agronomy and precision agriculture business that serves customers using a whole-farm approach in partnership with AGRIS Co-operative Ltd. Their services range from precision planning and application to grain handling and marketing.

On the technology side, the brothers own Haggerty AgRobotics Company, which focuses on research and testing autonomous farm equipment on the Haggerty Creek farming operation. This endeavor was born from Baresich’s interest in helping customers who were facing labor challenges, herbicide resistance issues and other problems that robots could potentially solve.

The brothers got their feet wet in 2020. Four years later, they’ve worked with everyone from local engineering companies to industry leaders like Naïo Technologies. The plan is to continue learning and experimenting. Today, Baresich can do this with the benefit of a big-picture perspective. His various endeavors have taught him a lot about what’s working and where there are opportunities to do better.

“We have all this technology coming into the field crops space, and it’s very exciting,” Baresich says. “It can also be overwhelming for a farmer to look at. There are probably 5,000 entrepreneurs around the world who are saying, ‘I have a robot for farmers.’”

When it comes to the autonomous robots that were developed to assist field crops growers with tasks like sowing, mechanical weeding, and grain guidance and analysis, Baresich has seen a disconnect between what farmers need and expect, and who will be first in line to adopt the technologies.

“A lot of companies are targeting field crops like corn, soybeans and wheat, but a lot of the robotic systems are not designed to accommodate that space,” he says. “They aren’t big enough, strong enough or robust enough. I’m actually seeing a lot of companies that started by going after the field crops market have transitioned to focus on the horticulture space.”

Baresich says that this actually makes more sense, as most robotic systems are better suited for the horticulture, viticulture and tender fruit markets. Although these sectors have a less acreage dedicated to them than commodities crops, they tend to be more profitable on a per acre basis. This translates directly into dollars available to invest in the latest technologies.

That doesn’t mean everyone has abandoned the field crops market for greener pastures. The manufacturers that continue to innovate in the space have mostly taken an alternative approach to what they create.

“I think what we’re seeing on the field crops side is figuring out how to automate an existing piece of equipment in a meaningful way—one that directly benefits the farmer,” Baresich says. “The challenge that robotics companies are up against there is that field crop farmers have gotten really, really good at being efficient on the field crop equipment.”

He gives the example of a Rogator agricultural sprayer with a 120-foot boom and a 1200-gallon tank. The return on investment of replacing this machinery with a small robot would be incredibly cost inefficient. Large equipment like sprayers can also be easily driven to the area where they need to work. This is where small robots often struggle. The logistics of getting where they need to go in the field often requires the assistance of a truck, trailer, appropriate laneways and more.

Instead of trying to overcome these barriers, many companies have opted to simply automate the Rogator. Baresich has worked on these types of projects himself. The first began nearly four years ago with a computer system his company adapted to control the spray rate and automate the spraying. The next step was to add a connectivity system that takes the machine’s collected data and automatically uploads it to the cloud. This enables Baresich to see what the machine is doing, regardless of who’s driving. He can even control it remotely if he needs to.

After that, they added an after-market camera guidance system from Raven Industries, to allow the sprayer to navigate the field without running over any of the crops. This vision system gives it the ability to perceive the rows and drive in between them. It can do this autonomously, even turning around at the end of the field to go down the next row. All the operator does is drive the machine to the field, monitor the area for obstacles and make sure the machinery is running like it should.

“I think the future of field crops is going to look like that—we’ll keep automating the implements as much as we can,” Baresich says. “As far as tillage, seeding, depth planting and all of these things, that’s where the automation is going to happen in field crops, more so than self-driving. It's still robotic automation technology. It just means that the machine might not drive itself to the field automatically.”

There are other opportunities for the next generation of field crops robots to deliver new advantages to farmers, too. Baresich believes that lighter robots will help to mitigate some of the soil compaction caused by larger, heavier machines. Because soil compaction negatively impacts yield, new autonomous technologies could help growers increase their gains with greater precision in a smaller footprint.

Another benefit of increasingly smart machines is that they help farmers manage their crops on a highly granular level. This could mean that the theoretical yield of corn plants (1600-1800 bushels per acre) could become within the realm of possibility. For context, award-winning corn growers in the U.S. have managed to hit 600 bushels per acres. The average U.S. corn grower rarely hits 200 bushels per acre on average.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there,” Baresich says. “But the other thing these machines can do is that they can be trained to multiply the farmer. As a grower, you have a skillset where you know a machine needs to work at this depth going this speed in this direction. You can then translate your knowledge to the robots, so now there are three or four of you with the same amount of knowledge, and they will all be doing exactly what you need them to do.”

These are the types of solutions that can have global impacts. Baresich anticipates that highly intelligent autonomous machines will be necessary to meet the increasing food needs of growing populations around the world. In Canada, there were a million new people in the last year alone. This means farmers need to be able to do more than grow commodities crops. They have to level up their fruit and vegetable production, too. As Baresich puts it, “All the new people who have come have to eat something, and they’re not going to eat field corn.”

The good news is that the agtech industry is taking these needs seriously. Those 5,000 entrepreneurs with robots? Baresich is happy to have them working on solutions. He compares the ag robotics space to the automotive sector in 1910 Detroit, where all the manufacturers were gathered together, experimenting and arguing about what would be the dominant technology.

“At that time, there were some car companies that made electric cars, some that made diesel engines, some had the steering wheel on the left hand side and others had it on the right hand side,” Baresich says. “Nobody really knew what the right thing was or what would happen. We’re seeing that in the robotics space today. Some are electric, some are solar powered, some use cultivation, others use lasers. We don't really know at this stage what the silver bullet is going to be, but we're working our way to find that out.”

A growing demand for automation in cereals and field crops is now being met. As World FIRA 2024 showcased, many of these technologies are here. Let’s take a closer look.

Credits @SPKTR


The ROBOTTI is an autonomous, versatile robot that can be easily integrated into many everyday jobs in the fields, in horticulture and in tree nurseries or similar areas with row or bed crops. The typical tasks are sowing, planting, hoeing, spraying and light tillage. ROBOTTI is diesel powered, uses a standard three point linkage so it can be fitted with standard farm implements. The new ROBOTTI LR is designed for long working hours with higher lifting capacity of 1.2 tons. It can have an optional PTO installed. The software enables planning, documentation and real-time monitoring in ROBOTTI control tower.

For more information, visit www.agrointelli.com.

Credits @SPKTR

SoftiRover « e-K18 » by SOFTIROB

The Softi Rover electric robot has been designed to perform all the tasks involved in growing crops in open fields. The Softi Rover e-K18 is a compact, 18 kW machine that can work as part of a team if required. Weighing in at 1.5 tonnes, it can easily be transported on an equipment carrier. Its lithium battery gives it 4 hours of autonomy. This agricultural robot has the architecture of an articulated tractor, with weight on the front and a hitch point for trailed implements on the rear. This gives it good grip on slopes and cloddy terrain. RTK guidance ensures precise trajectory. In addition, if required, a second device will take charge of the tool, with steering discs anchored in the ground.

For more information, visit www.softivert.com.

Credits @SPKTR

Newman by ULLMANNA

Ullmanna’s robotic system, designed for precision agriculture, excels in intelligent weeding and crop management. It employs advanced AI algorithms for accurate weed detection, distinguishing crops from weeds efficiently. Key features include real-time data processing, compatibility with various crop types, and adaptability to different field conditions. It operates seamlessly with existing agricultural machinery, enhancing its functionality. It’s eco-friendly, reducing reliance on chemical herbicides, and boosts overall farm productivity by automating labor-intensive tasks, thereby saving time and resources for farmers.

For more information, visit www.ullmanna.eu.

Credits @SPKTR

CROVER Grain Storage Management by Crover

The CROVER robot swims thorough bulk solids and powders, like large bulks of cereal grains and pulses stored in sheds and warehouse, and enables:

  • Mapping the condition to the grain with a higher resolution and data points density than possible with static solutions (and at a lower cost per measurement location compared to sites with 20+ static sensors)
  • Stirring the grain bulk, helping prevent and break crust, arching and ratholing
  • Collecting samples at depth within the bulk

The data collected by the CROVER robot be either downloaded locally, fed into existing digital systems, or visualized via its companion web app. As the first device in the world able to move omni-directionally in granular bulks, the CROVER robot also represents a major breakthrough in robotics and locomotion, as a platform that enables different technologies, be it sensors, sampling modules or pest control agents to reach areas of the bulk that they couldn’t otherwise.

For more information, visit www.crover.tech.

Credits @SPKTR

TASAI - Autonomous Tractor Kit by MOVE ON

Guided by their motto to have “hands on the keyboard, feet in the field,” MOVE ON is an agtech startup on a mission to develop artificial intelligence-based technologies that support sustainable agriculture. They have four solutions to date: TAS, a level-2 vision guidance automatic steering kit for tractors, GTS, advanced navigation technologies, MCP, an in-field agriculture cloud platform, and TASIA, an AI-based autonomous tractor kit.

For more information, visit www.moveon.ai

Credits @AfaraAgriTech

AFARA Cotton Picker Robot by AFARA AGRITECH

The AFARA Cotton Picker Robot specializes in collecting residual cotton left after initial harvesting. Key features include advanced computer vision for precise cotton detection and a vacuum technology-based collection system. This robot is designed to improve harvest efficiency, reduce waste, and support sustainable farming practices by ensuring more complete cotton collection. It’s an innovative solution for enhancing productivity and sustainability in cotton farming.

For more information, visit www.afara.com.tr.

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