By Connor Lynch
Automation, the process of turning over tasks from people to machines, is getting its sticky fingers into everything, and agriculture is no exception. Attendees of last month’s Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show at Woodstock were treated to the DoT autonomous platform, a U-shaped, self-driving machine that can haul around various farm implements and, at least partially, relegate fieldwork to a robot.
Leaning into this trend will be a must and is an opportunity on the scale of the very beginnings of agriculture itself, when humans first domesticated plants and animals, according to a report by the Royal Bank of Canada, released last month.
In what RBC is calling the fourth agricultural revolution, following domestication, mechanization and genetic and chemical innovation (or green revolution), using more technology on the farm could increase agriculture’s contribution to the GDP by $11 billion by 2030, bringing ag’s net contribution to $51 billion.
That’s mostly going to come from physical labour being replaced by automation, while a surprising range of on-farm and farm-related jobs could face robotic replacement.
Here’s what’s driving the trend:
• Ag’s increasing labour shortage: Foreign worker programs are a short-term solution. Automation will be the long-term answer, the RBC report says.
• Better educated farmers: 42 per cent of Canada’s ag workers have a post-secondary degree or the equivalent. Enrollment in post-secondary ag programs is up by about 29 per cent over the last decade.
• 81 per cent of farmers under 40 say they use advanced tech (ie. robotic milkers) in their operations. Of farmers over 60, it is 57 per cent, according to Statistics Canada data.
By 2030, the ag labour shortage is expected to have grown significantly, but automation could mitigate or eliminate that shortage. Here’s RBC’s predictions about how much of a shortage there could be, and how likely robots are to take over those jobs:
• Decision-makers (ie. farmers) are the least likely to get replaced by robots. Their problem is that there won’t be enough of them. There’s expected to be a 17 per cent shortage of farm managers by 2030.
• Agriculture will also see a 17 per cent shortage of skilled workers. But many of these skilled workers might not even be needed. There’s a 52 per cent chance that these jobs become automated.
• Specialists like plant scientists and livestock managers will be in shorter supply with only a 10 per cent chance that a machine will take their job.
• Without advancement in technology, labourers will be in the shortest supply of all, as 52 per cent of jobs as labourers will go begging. But here’s where technology is the biggest game changer. By 2030, it’s highly likely that virtually no labourers will be needed at all. There’s a stunning 94 per cent chance their jobs will be automated.
• Advisors like agronomists and financial advisors also face a significant threat from automation, with a 43 per cent chance their jobs get automated.
The report also contained some specific recommendations for government to improve efficiency including reducing barriers to high-skilled immigrants and fulfilling the federal promise to hook up rural Ontario with broadband internet within 10 years.
Farms to automate big time by 2030, Royal Bank report says
By Connor Lynch