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Are driverless tractors the answer to a rural labour shortage?

Are driverless tractors the answer to a rural labour shortage? article image

The world population is expected to top 9 billion by 2050, according to forecasts from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Yet arable land is in decline, along with soil health all over the world.

As a result, farmers are under pressure to produce more food with fewer resources.

In developed countries like the US and Australia farmers are facing massive labour shortages as it becomes increasingly difficult to find full-time and casual staff.

Now a US company, Bear Flag robotics is developing autonomous tractors to help lower farming costs through automation.

With self-driving tractors and implements farmers can get work done around the clock, including bad weather – without relying on human labour.

Founded by Igino Cafiero and Aubrey Donnellan last year, Bear Flag Robotics just raised a $3.5 million round of seed funding to take the company to the next level.

And it’s not hard to see why interest in the company is steadily growing.

With an autonomous tractor a farmer can wake up at 5am to find a paddock has already been tilled. That’s because the autonomous machine has already started work at 2am.

So, by the time the farmer has had their morning coffee, they can then address more complex, decision-making tasks.

Bear Flag is looking to beat established farm equipment manufacturers to the market.

Tractor makers, including Deere and CNS Global, have already announced plans to develop their own fully autonomous tractors.

Most importantly, said Donnellan, the company is focused on helping the agriculture industry meet the world's burgeoning nutritional needs. 

"We have to increase productivity 70 percent by 2050, can you believe that? It's incredible," Donnellan told CNBC.

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