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Gro-bots

 
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Not to be confused with gir-bots!

So, many of you are probably aware that California's central coast and San Joaquin Valley grow much of the produce most Americans eat every day.  For example, 75% of the lettuce farmed in the U.S. comes from there.  I visited the both areas this Spring, and they are fascinating places, but the epitome of industrial agriculture - mile after mile of monocrop, all sprayed, fertilized, sterilized.  The soil is so fertile in the San Joaquin Valley that it will grow anything - just add water.  You name it, they grow it.  Of course, it is basically a desert, so flooding the fields to irrigate consumes prodigious quantities of water.  In summer, the valley is a thick haze of dust and agri-chemicals and smog, and hot as blazes for months on end.  Much of the "organic" produce we consume also comes from those two areas, the difference being it is grown under prodigious amounts of plastics.  Imagine, if you will, miles after mile of orange trees or grape vines wrapped in plastic coverings to keep bugs and presumably overspray off of the "organic" produce.  Anyway, all that is well-known and documented, but still interesting to see for yourself if you get a chance.

However, the coming trend seems to be leafy greens grown by robots in California greenhouses or even giant warehouse type buildings.  All computer monitored and climate controlled, and nary a bug to be seen.  What do we think about that?  Surely it must be better than the plow/spray/flood practices currently occurring now?  And yet, what vast amounts of energy are required to build the buildings, maintain the climate, light the grow lights - hardly seems sustainable to me, and no tbetter than the "organic" methods used there.  I don't think they can put the entire San Joaquin valley under a building with existing technology anytime soon.  So is this all just hype, or is it really going to make a difference?  And is produce grown under such conditions any good anyway, or is it unlikely to have the nutrients it would get from truly good soils?  

Here is a link as an example: https://boweryfarming.com/how-it-works

 
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This is a good topic to discuss.

Technology has been changing the way we live since the first broken-off tree limb accidentally impaled someone, and was then used to hunt food animals. This is no different, but much more complex.

In the discussion about whether automated factory-farms for organic produce is beneficial, I think it is important to consider how they will operate, and what the effect on currently overexploited farmland will be. Will producing our produce this way result in rewilding, or perhaps more pastured livestock returning fertility through paddock-shift grazing? More meadows? Less water spilled onto the desert to grow wet-climate crops? Fewer petroleum-based chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the environment?

Another iteration of automated farming that I have seen on this site is where a riding-mower-sized robot rolls between or overtop of rows with a camera identifying what should and shouldn't be there, and removing it before it can become a problem for the intended crops. This idea could be excellent if the program included polycultural concerns, allowing the farmer to tend to something that actually requires their attention, rather than weeding and chop-and-dropping.

I, for one, am in favour of automation that collects and collates data for us. The more we know, the better our decision-making gets. Also, the more detailed our terrain maps are, the better our ability to exploit natural microclimates.

I am interested in seeing what becomes of this.

-CK
 
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I think there are vast opportunities for robotics in restoration of degraded land, much of it old farmland, so fairly flat and easy to traverse by simple robots.  Robots could be deployed throughout the degraded farmlands of America to imprint the soil and plant seeds.  This could get the ball rolling toward restoring much of the prairie, prior to reintroducing bison, etc.
 
Artie Scott
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I know I would love a gro-bot that pulled my weeds and squashed my ‘bad’ bugs - especially those dastardly vine borers!  And imagine a LGD-type grobot that would scare off the deer and other ravenous garden munchers, eliminating the need for costly fencing!  To Chris and Tyler’s points, it is really all about how the technology is applied.
 
Chris Kott
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For pest deterrence, I would probably look at aerial drones with a fluid reservoir and a sprayer that I would fill with something like Sepp's bonesauce, or maybe like a homemade pepperspray. I think the bonesauce would be better, as it could also be sprayed to what remains of perennial victims of deer browsing.

I could see myself having way too much fun piloting the drone remotely, watching the screen as the target comes into focus, aiming the sprayer cannon... Hmm. Could be useful for people deterrence, too.

-CK
 
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That reminds me.  A little over a year ago, Costco Connection, that neigh useless spam magazine that their stores like to foist on people, did have one interesting article.

Certainly, it's focused on industrio-ag, because that's the "only way", right? :(  
Anyway, if you choke that down without gagging, there was some cool stuff.  
For instance, how 'bout giant vacuum cleaners that suck the bugs off plants!??

There are a lot more similar ideas.  Certainly worth a skim:
http://www.costcoconnection.com/connection/201804?pg=1#pg1
 
Artie Scott
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By the way, there actually is a fro-bot you can buy for about $300 - a solar powered weeder similar to a Roomba vacuum. Has anyone used or know how well they work?

https://www.franklinrobotics.com

 
Tyler Ludens
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K Eilander wrote:
For instance, how 'bout giant vacuum cleaners that suck the bugs off plants!??



If we're talking about bugs on food crops out in the world, and not in a greenhouse, I think that vacuuming them up en masse would not be advantageous.  In my experience, "pests" are indicators of unhealthy plants and not a problem on healthy ones.  Many other creatures depend on bugs for food, so we probably don't want to be vacuuming them up on a large scale (or poisoning them, or destroying their habitats, etc).

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/02/why-insect-populations-are-plummeting-and-why-it-matters/
 
K Eilander
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Tyler Ludens wrote:n my experience, "pests" are indicators of unhealthy plants and not a problem on healthy ones.  Many other creatures depend on bugs for food, so we probably don't want to be vacuuming them up on a large scale (or poisoning them, or destroying their habitats, etc).



Totally agree that the complexity of design in nature is not something that one can tamper with willy-nilly and not suffer an unknowable ripple effect.
Of course I'd argue that the system in question is already an imbalanced/unnatural one.  The need for further intervention is due to a system already disturbed by aggressive monoculture.

And for reference, here's a pic from the article of what they're working on:
(Note: the bottom is something else - mobile workstations for pickers)

 
Tyler Ludens
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K Eilander wrote:
Of course I'd argue that the system in question is already an imbalanced/unnatural one.  The need for further intervention is due to a system already disturbed by aggressive monoculture.



I thought we're talking about robots in the context of permaculture.  I thought we're talking about using advanced technology to improve the growing of food, not more accommodation of aggressive monoculture.  
 
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