The road to hands-free farming has many lanes and it's important to stay across what is happening in each of them.
That's Food Agility CRC chief scientist Professor David Lamb's advice for farmers and businesses.
Professor Lamb said robotics, autonomous systems and machine learning were all a part of a hands-free farming future.
But it wasn't just about those aspects, it was also about knowing where livestock are, how they are performing and what the availability of feed is.
When looking at hands-free farming, ultimately he said it is the why that matters.
These tools could be used to reduce labour inputs, improve safety, refine workflows and save time.
"I think more than anything it's about giving our producers who are time-poor, resource-challenged that peace of mind about getting on with the production of food which we all depend upon," he said.
In his address at the Digital Agrifood Summit in Wagga Wagga, NSW, on June 1, Professor Lamb delved deeper into four of these lanes - technology, regulatory, standards and social.
He described them as the fast lane, slow lane, middle lane, and pot-holed lane.
On the technology front, Professor Lamb cited the development of autonomous tractors as an example of the advancements taking place.
"I think we accept now that there is an enormous amount of opportunity technology-wise for a hands-free farming future," he said.
"Robotics or some form of autonomous innovation is pretty well a part of just about every machinery manufacturer's product development roadmap."
He said telecommunications remained a key enabler and a key challenge for the growth of this space.
When it comes to the regulatory lane, Professor Lamb said it was important to get codes of practice right for producers.
"At the end of the day, if you put a robot in a farming or food production environment and there's an accident, on one hand as a purchaser of that particular technology, you have some protections afforded under consumer law and sales of goods legislation," he said.
"But on the other side of the see-saw you've got the manufacturer/supplier who has also got contracts of sale with you that specify exclusions for liabilities and when you look at the court case running overseas around the couple of Tesla accidents that happened recently, you realise that tug of war is going on live.
"It's not a simple exercise to determine whether these provisions would provide for farmers who suffer injury or property damages as a result of an incident caused by defective autonomous farm machinery. In other words, it's still being argued in courts, so we don't know what the precedents are."
He said standards were also absolutely critical and not having them in place could impede product development roadmaps and adoption planning.
In the farming lane it was important to consider whether farms and farmers were robotics ready.
Sometimes this could be a case of rethinking and re-imagining what farming systems are like.
With 'right to farm' becoming topical over the past five years, another point to consider was the social licence to hands-free farm.
"We see things on social media, people offering opinions on what farming is, and we have to spend years fighting back with fact. We know the right to farm is an emotive issue," Professor Lamb said.
"At the end of the day, when we introduce autonomous components into our farming systems, let's not lose sight of the power of the human touch.
"We use humans to sell our products to other humans - it's an important marketing tool."
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