The Tom monitoring robot is now entering service on UK farms and customers include the Lockerley Estate, where robots are a key part of its regenerative farming strategy, as well as the Waitrose & Partners and the National Trust.
SRC’s first service using Tom will be per plant weeding, a world-first milestone. This is now in field trials, with Tom scanning first arable crops to detect weeds, and robot weeding prototype ‘Dick’ then being deployed to 'zap' individual weeds with electrical ‘lightning strikes’, using no chemicals. On-farm pilots of the service will commence this autumn.
With up to 95% of chemicals wasted in the current farming system, this new non-chemical weeding technology is seen as significantly helping with more nature-friendly and better for biodiversity. In future, Tom will also be used to gather data from multiple sources, such as sensors and microphones for birdsong and pollinators, to assess soil health and biodiversity.
Manufactured in Northumberland by Tharsus, Tom will be going into 5G trials in Dorset in the autumn in the £8 million 5G RuralDorset project.
“To prove the power of per plant farming we are focusing on answering the biggest problem that farmers face at the moment which is weeding,” said Ben Scott-Robinson, CEO and co-founder, Small Robot Company, “We’ve now proved we can deliver per plant weeding: a world first. The focus for us now is being able to move forward to deliver this, repeatedly, and at scale. This will be game-changing.”
Tom’s scanning and measurement capabilities are also applicable to lots of wider players in the agriculture industry, offering highly accurate and repeatable measurement of crop data, with the opportunity for every field to become a trial plot. With trial plots yielding as much as 20 tonnes of wheat per hectare, versus the average of 8.4 tonnes on UK farms, there is considerable opportunity to improve performance.
SRC is currently conducting a pilot with its Tom robot taking soil samples to assess soil health measurement. Robotic monitoring could provide accurate, repeatable carbon measurement at farm scale. According to the company this could be transformational in providing accurate carbon sequestration measurement to support the UK farming industry's transition to Net Zero by 2040.
Tom’s highly accurate measurement capabilities will also help enable farmers to access the new post-Brexit Environmental Land Management (ELMS) payments, due to be introduced in 2024. The new scheme creates a framework that links food production and the environment, and will replace subsidies with ‘public money for public goods.’