An example of smart agriculture and robotisation, weeding machine tractor

Dutch coalition agreement calls for innovation programme robotisation in agriculture, but how?

2 July 2024

‘Robotisation of our food production seems to be the answer to many questions’. A fantastic sentence in the coalition agreement of the new Dutch government that was sworn in today. But how do we realise this in practice?

Robotisation and smart agriculture offer huge benefits for food production. We can reduce dependence on migrant labour, and we secure more sustainable food production with lighter robots that can be used frequently. Robots can work day and night with minimum input and maximum output, leading to higher market value and better food quality. Even while preserving and quantifying biodiversity. In addition, they can be used to grow a wide range of crops, contributing to a more diverse and healthy diet.

The current state of affairs

There are more than 50,000 edible plants in the world, but only 15 of them provide 90 per cent of the world’s food energy intake. Crops harvested by large, very high-capacity machines, usually once a year. Factories on wheels. Monoculture. Since the 1990s, the number of farmers and growers worldwide has fallen dramatically, leaving an ever smaller proportion of the world’s population responsible for our food production. In Europe, we are around 6%. We may not want to admit it, but as in horticulture, labour efficiency in arable farming and fodder production is the driver that keeps our food affordable and determines our diet.

Challenges for robotics in agri-tech

Only, we encounter several challenges when implementing robotics in agriculture. Farmers ask technical suppliers for efficient and affordable solutions, while engineers focus on what is marketable. Society demands sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions such as more biodiversity, chemical-free growing and carbon storage, but these are not funded. We can also enforce the right measures through regulation, and I am not against that either. But then it should be done without swerving, because if we are not careful, other countries will catch up with us. The technology itself will not be the issue. It is scalable and does not have to be too expensive when mature. The problem is R&D and scaling up.

The solution: collaboration and scalability

The key to success lies in collaboration between agronomists, engineers, researchers, and policy makers. University knowledge needs to be translated into practical applications. Applied research is needed to validate, demonstrate and integrate technologies into business operations. Mid-tech companies need to become more attractive to high-tech partners through acquisitions and collaborations. Farmers themselves also need to show ownership: robots are trained with artificial intelligence (AI) and the crop is the input, the dataset, for this AI. The better farmers organise their data, clean it up, and the more data they provide, the better the AI will work. And the sooner you start using robots as a farmer, the bigger your lead will be.
So the new coalition agreement sets the right tone with its proposal for an innovation programme, but it is up to all of us to step up and make this a reality.

Erik Pekkeriet Vision Robotics

ing. EJ (Erik) Pekkeriet

Programme Manager Vision+Robotics

Contact ing. EJ (Erik) Pekkeriet