California agricultural tech company FodderWorks, part of the US agricultural company Simply Country, is pioneering the machine, which grows animal fodder, such as barley, for cows and other food production animals indoors without the use of fertiliser, soil, sunlight and human labor.
Kyle Chittock, general manager at FodderWorks, told FeedNavigator that educating famers to the benefits of the feed-growing machine and a new approach to feeding livestock was a significant challenge.
He said: “The real challenge is that it’s not just a robot that is being created. This is a new and different type of feed.
“We are changing how people feed livestock. They are not sure what to do with it."
The machine, housed inside a building, works by a conveyer belt moving the robot so it arms spread the seeds on trays, which are stacked on shelves and exposed to water and light from overhead sprayers and lamps.
After six days, the robot transfers the trays to a washing station after which they are ready to be eaten by dairy cows.
Advantages of machine
The machine offers multiple advantages to feed crop cultivation, said Chittock, chiefly that it saves on labor, land and water costs as well as being more productive.
A typical California dairy farm has around 1,000 cows and Chittock says farmers “don’t want to have to hire lots of people to spend time growing feed because that’s not what they do”.
“They need to be much more focused on producing the milk which makes them the money.”
The machine can produce two tons of feed a day, compared to half a ton harvested by a human, says Chittock, who says any type of cereal grain can be grown in the machine, but from a “nutrition standpoint” barley works well.
Asked whether the lack of human involvement in the machine could prove problematic, such as in light of a malfunction, Chittock said:
“The robot should be very reliable, so it’s not really a major concern. The robot is very simple.”
Automation is the future
While the introduction of such machines could be a concern for the farm labour market, it is indicative of the direction of travel, says Chittock.
He said: “This is the direction things are going. Automated milkers are becoming very, very common in the dairy industry. Instead of having a big crew of people to handle the milking process they have a few robots to handle that. They have proven to be more reliable than people. And get better results.”
The cost of the equipment, which was showcased for the first time at the World Ag Expo in California this year, starts at $233,000 for a machine producing one ton of feed a day.
The more a machine produces, however, the cheaper the machine will be, because of the greater efficiency. For a 12-ton-a-day system, the robot would cost under $83,000 per ton, said the developer.
While FodderWorks has yet to sell any of the machines, Chittock is expecting this to change soon, with interest coming not only from the US but Europe too, in the UK and Austria.
He sees no reason why the machines can’t be a success in Europe.
“Such a new thing, it's really hard to estimate what is going to happen. Once we get one installed, show success, things will take off,” said Chittock.