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UA research farm innovating industry with automated tech

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Arizona's agricultural roots date back more than 4,000 years, when native tribes grew gardens Today, the industry generates tens of billions of dollars every year

To see what role automation plays in modern day farming, we're here at the University of Arizona Maricopa Agriculture Center According to the USDA, farming operations in the state span over 26 million acres 2,100 of them make up the Maricopa Agricultural Center, where we met Pedro Andrade-Sanchez, an engineer with the U of A College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – Now we have these systems that we can change very important parameters – He specializes in what's known as precision agriculture, which refers to farmers' increased use of technology to improve their efficiency

Machines tested here include a planter that can automatically adjust how deep it plants seeds based on data about a field's soil composition How did growers do this prior to these types of technologies? – All mechanical drives, it was very simple You just set a gear, put the seat on the hopper, and go It was all uniform And that is what precision ag has changed

We no longer look into uniform management of a field We are site-specific management – What comes after this, what's next? – Well, it's hard to say We know that there is a strong emphasis on autonomy, autonomous systems I tend to think that that's still gonna take many many many years before we see a fully autonomous system doing all this

We are seeing the systems providing that additional efficiency, but still no need right now to not have a operator Now, I'll say this That operator needs increasing amounts of training, and that's another area of our work in precision ag, that we can provide that support for the grower and his or her workforce in the use of these systems – In automation, there's a lot of fear that machines are replacing people You're saying you still need a qualified person to run these systems

– Absolutely, yeah, and I don't see this as a displacement of labor It's more a change in function, because then labor is trained to do other things, where that skill, it's applied to a high level – [Lorraine] Machines like this are more costly, but Andrade-Sanchez considers it a worthwhile investment, saying growers reap longterm savings on seeds Data used to program automated equipment is gathered by other machines, like this mobile platform outfitted with sensors, cameras and navigation systems (equipment buzzing) – [John] So we're collecting multi-spectral information, thermal data, so we take the temperature of the crops

That tells us about how the plant is performing in the heat, in the Arizona heat – [Lorraine] Engineer John Heun says the U of A was one of the first universities to utilize this type of platform, and says it's now commonplace – We're generating information using sensors to help the person who's managing the plants, managing the crops, to make better decisions, more informed decisions – [Lorraine] The platform can cover about two acres an hour and generate measurements on every plant in a field – At the rate that we can cover the field with this machine and other machines like it, it's nearly impossible to measure with such high resolution and precision, as opposed to a whole group of people trying to do those exact same measurements

(platform rumbling) – [Lorraine] The benefits this type of data provides are both economical and environmental When growers can narrow down problem areas in their fields, they can scale back on the amount of fertilizers or pesticides used to treat crops Agriculture's increased use of automation and technology should come as no surprise to the industry As Andrade-Sanchez points out, it was predicted nearly 40 years ago by a professor at the University of California, Davis – In 1981, he was making arguments based on the ability of micro-computers or computers for the general public

– So managing agriculture has shifted over the years – [Pedro] Exactly – Science technology has been maybe one of the driving forces – Exactly, that's exactly right, Lorraine, and again, back to the question of how things have changed We in the general sense, in our farming systems in Arizona, we are more mechanized

We're using more information-intensive tools But that's gradual, gradually we're moving that And we will continue to move gradually And I happen to believe that that is actually a good thing Consequences of a sudden change can be also negative

We want to be building, building for technology that really solves problems and helps our stakeholders in Arizona

Source: Youtube

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