Hands-Free Hectare Project: Humans not needed for crop farming

Alex Whitebrook/ May 15, 2018/ News/ 0 comments

A world-first project in the West Midlands of England has opened the door to the future face of farming — and Australia has been given the inside story.

The “Hands-Free Hectare Project” (HFHa), based in Shropshire, set out to demonstrate that a crop could be successfully prepared, sown, grown and harvested without a human being ever setting foot in the field.

Everything was to be done by machine autonomously – and it worked.

The full account of how the project unfolded was delivered by one of its key architects, Martin Abell, who was flown to Australia earlier this year to act as keynote speaker at a Grains Research and Development Corporation Grains Research Update in Perth.

Mr Abell’s itinerary, organised by GRDC, quickly grew to include other speaking engagements and his visit stretched out to three weeks.

He also gave a presentation at the GRDC Grains Research Update in Adelaide.

“I’m enjoying meeting different farmers and seeing a completely different way of farming with distinctive problems,” he told Crop Gear.

“It turns out I now have a very busy itinerary, going to four states, speaking at seven events and visiting Sydney University.”

Mr Abell, 25, is a mechatronics research engineer for York-based farming services company Precision Decisions, having joined after graduating from Shropshire’s Harper Adams University with a five-year master’s degree in agricultural engineering.

A farmer’s son from a small arable enterprise in North Yorkshire, he had previously completed a year’s internship with a strip seeding manufacturer and worked in a grain storage facility during his years as a student.

As an undergraduate, he focused his thesis on the effects of tillage and traffic systems on soil, later joining a group project developing an autonomous sprayer demonstration unit for the university.

“Harper Adams is a centre for precision farming in the UK and the professors there are always talking about automation as the destiny of agriculture, but what they’re referring to is lots of tiny robots in swarms of hundreds,” Mr Abell said.

“That seems too futuristic, so the HFHa project is all about showing how automation can happen now using current technologies and smaller versions of tractors perhaps commonly seen 60 years ago.

“Everything needed to make them autonomous is available today.

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