I was astonished to read of the wide-ranging implications of a new laser weeding technology now available to farmers.
Carbon Robotics is now shipping its LaserWeeder to farms around the United States; the machine uses the power of lasers and robotics to rid fields of weeds ... The LaserWeeder can eliminate over 200,000 weeds per hour and offer up to 80% cost savings in weed control.
. . .
The LaserWeeder is a 20-foot-wide unit comprised of three rows of 10 lasers that are pulled behind a tractor.
Thirty lasers are at work as the unit travels across a field destroying weeds "with millimeter accuracy, skipping the plant and killing the weed," said Mikesell.
The LaserWeeder "does the equivalent work of about 70 people," he continued.
. . .
The technology "makes for a much more consistent growing process and adds a bunch of health to your yield. You get big yield improvements because you're not damaging the crops with herbicides."
There's more at the link.
Here's a publicity video from Carbon Robotics showing the LaserWeeder in action.
The economic implications for farmers and farm workers are mind-boggling.
- The workers normally hired to manage weeds in crops won't be needed any more - or, at any rate, far fewer of them. That's a huge money-saver for farmers, but how many workers will end up unemployed, with no jobs available to replace those they've lost? What will that do to the unemployment rate overall?
- I've no idea how much per acre farmers normally spend on herbicides, but it's got to add up. It probably varies from region to region. If those expenses are no longer needed, the robotic/laser technology of the LaserWeeder becomes that much more affordable.
- What will this mean for fertilizers and other input costs? If crops are no longer threatened by weed incursion, will farmers still need as much fertilizer to obtain high yields, or will the absence of weeds - and the saving of time and money through not having to fight them - mean that less fertilizer can be used, because overall crop productivity will be higher even without it?
- Can this technology be scaled according to the size of farm and type of crop? The video above shows a big machine in a big field. Can a smaller machine be made at a lower cost? Can smaller farms use it cost-effectively? Can the technology be adapted to (say) market gardening in greenhouses, rather than fields? These things may not be possible now, but if they become feasible, they may make even the small-scale, backyard growing of fruit and vegetables much easier and cheaper. Might we be able to grow a certain proportion of our own food, more practically and affordably than before, thereby reducing our dependence on "Big Ag"?
- Do these input cost savings mean that farmers (and Big Ag in particular) can/will accept lower prices for their produce, because they'll have lower input costs to grow them?
- Can this technology be adapted to (say) gardening in greenhouses and back yards, rather than larger fields? It may not be possible now, but if it becomes feasible, it may make the small-scale, private cultivation of fruit and vegetables much easier and cheaper. You might see groups of neighbors hiring or buying such technology to share among themselves, at home or in allotments.
- Over time, this technology may revolutionize the production of food, thereby addressing some of the "woke" or "green" concerns about modern farming practices. There's a lot of concern about the over-use of farm chemicals and resultant pollution problems (see, for example, the so-called "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by such chemicals draining down the Mississippi River and out to sea). Could such technology help reduce that problem, by needing less fertilizer and/or herbicides?
Just the thought of no longer having to spend hours weeding in the back yard is enormously tempting. This will bear watching.