Even though cost continues to remain a barrier to adoption, robots are finding their way into agriculture, threatening to alter the landscape of farming across the world, according to Lux Research.

“Currently robots often aren’t affordable – cost remains the most significant barrier to adoption,” said Sara Olson, Lux Research Analyst and lead author of the report titled, “Planting the Seeds of a Robot Revolution: How Autonomous Systems Are Integrating into Precision Agriculture.”

“However, the costs of many systems are coming down, while wages rise due to labor shortages in some areas, and the benefits robots bring in the form of increased accuracy and precision will start to pay off in coming years,” she added.

Lux Research analysts studied automation in agriculture and the developers of robots. Among their findings:

  • Robots near parity with labor in corn farms. “Autosteer” systems for tractors and harvesters can be cost-effective for corn growers with large operations, and have achieved a nearly 10% market penetration. The gap between labor cost and Autosteer- or Edrive-assisted labor in U.S. corn farming is relatively small and will become negligible by 2020.
  • European lettuce growing becomes autonomous in 2028. Automated lettuce weeding is already competitive with human labor in Europe, thanks to regulatory limitations on agrochemicals. Lettuce thinning is still accomplished manually at lower cost, but robots are likely to reach breakeven with human labor in 2028.
  • Machines are a good fit for Japanese strawberry fields. A strawberry-harvesting robot is approximately cost-equivalent to human labor in Japan, but only when shared by multiple farms. With strawberry-picking being slow and labor-intensive, and labor scarce and expensive – the average agricultural worker in Japan is over 70 years old – the robot is quickly likely to become the cheaper option.

The report, titled “Planting the Seeds of a Robot Revolution: How Autonomous Systems Are Integrating into Precision Agriculture,” is part of the Lux Research Agro Innovation Intelligence and the Autonomous Systems 2.0 Intelligence services.