Autonomous Agriculture: What's Next?



AEF Autonomous AgricultureBy Anita Sennett, AEM Senior Director of Ag Services — 

A cartoon from the 80’s illustrated a line of robots walking into work carrying their lunch pails. They walked past a glass case with a human standing at attention inside. On the glass was a sign that read “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS.”

Robots and autonomous equipment are here, now and are in use in many industry sectors and world regions. They certainly exist in agriculture - with technologies ready for use and often getting ahead of standards and regulations. The question today is just exactly how autonomous agriculture will unfold and ultimately what that will look like.  As these technologies emerge, what adjustments will need to be made? How will this change the way farmers run their operations, field hands learn their jobs, technicians service equipment, and manufacturers develop and market that equipment?  What new considerations need to be given to standards, regulations, safety, cybersecurity? 

In order to gain a better understanding, the *Agriculture Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF) recently held an Autonomous Information Day, hosted by AEM at our Milwaukee offices. Organizations from other sectors and with other areas of focus were invited to share their vision, objectives and experiences regarding autonomous machinery, giving the AEF Steering Committee, Project Team Leaders and AEM Ag Technology Leadership Group audience a better perspective of what may lie ahead for autonomous agriculture.

  • The above-mentioned cartoon was brought forward by a speaker from NIOSH Automation and Emerging Technologies Partnership. He shared lessons learned from the mining industry which has been operating massive autonomous machines in other countries for many years.
  • GOFAR (Global Organization for Agricultural Robotics) presented its online tools and live European and North American FIRA events designed to bring together the autonomous and robotic agriculture community.
  • EU umbrella trade association CEMA spoke about its strategy for a Connected, Cooperative and Automated Agriculture. The speaker shared its advocacy efforts focused on data governance, cybersecurity and connectivity and the need for standardization in the autonomous space.
  • The Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) emphasized their four pillars of advocacy, educating the public, educating the industry and connecting the industry in order to create a blueprint for autonomous equipment spanning myriad industries.
  • Wageningen University & Research, based in what’s known as “Food Valley” in the Netherlands, specializes in technical, engineering and agricultural research. The presentation walked through the evolution of precision agriculture to the operational field robots today and the path towards fully autonomous food production.
  • AEM’s Autonomous Machines Coordinating Committee presented on the characteristics of autonomous off-road equipment versus autonomous automotive, with the differences illustrating the separate and different industry needs from a safety and regulatory standpoint.

For more information, be sure to reach out to me at

*AEM is a founding member of the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF). Eight agriculture equipment manufacturers and three associations work as core members together with 220 general members to improve cross-manufacturer compatibility of electronic and electric components in agricultural equipment, to establish transparency about compatibility issues and to make work easier and more profitable for farmers.

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