In recent years, many small American farms have been struggling due to low commodity prices. As a way to cut down on expenses, some farm owners automate their labor, which helps them harvest crops and raise animals more efficiently.
A California-based company called Fodderworks makes robots that grow fodder (feed for cows, chickens, and other animals). According to Kyle Chittock, the company’s general manager, an average person can harvest approximately half a ton of fodder per day, while Fodderworks’ bot can do two tons – a productivity increase of 400%.
As reported by Motherboard, Fodderworks’ bots grow fodder indoors without soil, fertilizer, or sunlight. A conveyor belt-style track moves the bot so its arms can spread seeds on vertically stacked trays filled with nutrient-rich water. Automatic nozzles above the trays also add water periodically during the growing process. After the trays sit under LED lights for six days, the bot transfers them to a washing station, where a nozzle sprays water on the plants.
While the bots can also grow leafy greens and other produce, Chittock says sprouted grains – known as fodder when fed to animals – are becoming increasingly common on farms because they are more nutritious for livestock than corn.
The bots use about 98% less water than it takes to grow sprouts outside, since they can control how much water is sprayed on the crops. That allows farms to scale up (i.e. increase the number of animals they raise by growing more fodder for them), while using less water and land.
Chittock says the system doesn’t take many farm jobs away from humans because there are few large-scale fodder operations in America. However, anyone employed to grow fodder obviously faces competition from the bots.
The prices of the bots depend on how much fodder they can produce per day (those that harvest more fodder cost less per ton produced). Bots that grow one ton of fodder per day start at $233,000. A 12-ton-a-day system costs $995,000, which works out to about $83,000 per ton. (The company’s biggest client is now capable of roughly 20 tons daily, but produced only five tons with manual labor, Chittock says)
You can watch the bot in action below: