Explore agriculture technology to inform the future of digital ag

URBANA, Ill. – The agriculture industry is changing – driverless full-sized tractors can till fields and robots are milking cows and feeding calves. New digital farming technologies like robots and autonomous field equipment are coming out every day. But these labor-saving machines have also prompted questions about safety protocols, risk management, and changes for the agricultural workforce and rural communities.

Join fellow farmers, ranchers, and other ag industry professionals for a two-day workshop in November to address many of the important risk, policy, and community-related issues with new digital farming technologies like robots, autonomous field equipment, and other labor-saving devices.

The Safety for Emerging Robotics and Autonomous Agriculture, SAFER AG, workshop will be November 9 to 10 in Urbana, IL. The workshop is hosted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other industry, university, and government partners.

“The introduction of mechanization in agriculture in the early 1900s transformed farms and surrounding communities,” says workshop co-chair Dr. Salah Issa, assistant professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Agricultural & Biological Engineering Department. “We expect digital technologies to lead to a similar transformation on farms and in many rural areas.”

Workshop participants will help advise and develop future research recommendations on agricultural autonomous robotics on issues such as safety, insurability, regulation, policy, and required workforce skills. The organizers are encouraging broad participation to help develop inclusive recommendations. The workshop is open to insurers, lenders, engineers, producers, manufacturers, educators, policymakers, community leaders, and other partners who will have the opportunity to voice their thoughts on what these changes mean.

Each new labor-saving device brings a different set of potential concerns – as well as opportunities.

“This astonishing rate of tech advancement in agriculture is exciting and will likely lead to improvements in production, efficiency, and sustainability,” said John Shutske, workshop co-chair and University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Biological Systems Engineering professor and extension specialist.

Both Issa and Shutske have active research programs in agricultural automation and related safety needs.

The event will feature experts from equipment companies and specialists who focus on injury and safety as well as those who will speak about the impacts of newly adopted agricultural technologies. The workshop includes a full-day work session to identify needs and barriers. Priorities for action will serve as a roadmap for future research, outreach, education, and partnerships.

For more information or to register, visit go.illinois.edu/SAFERAG. Discounts are available for farmers, ranchers, and other ag producers.

“However, the lighting-fast rate of change means that designers, operators, insurance companies, and others might struggle to keep up with the unanticipated safety issues these technologies might create. This is especially a concern when farm-sector stakeholders don’t have an opportunity to weigh in on the benefits or challenges,” Shutske continued.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

SOURCES: Salah Issa, University of Illinois, Assistant Professor, salah01@illinois.edu or (217) 333-3570; John Shutske, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor and Extension Specialist, john.shutske@wisc.edu or (608) 890-2949.