Farmers turn to robots to help save crops during severe weather

By: John Ahrens

Updated:

Farmers in the Carolinas are coming off a disastrous drought stretch and they’re finding more problems as they get ready to plant again.

They’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature and now they’re turning to new technology for help.

[READ: Fort Mill peach farms suffer worst damage in a decade after cold snap]

“If you don’t keep up with technology, do you see yourself as the odd man out?” meteorologist John Ahrens asked farmer Ron Edwards.

“Oh yes, very much so,” Edwards answered.

Edwards uses an automated sensor that collects weather information close to the ground and then sends the conditions right to his phone. He said he gets three or four texts a day on the weather updates.

Many other farmers are taking it a step further. There are more drones flying around fields, and a research team at Clemson help pioneer a robot that can trudge through fields, armed with high-definition cameras and sensors that help capture a plant’s progress.

“What the robot is doing is taking data we could never collect, that would take hundreds of hours. It’s really just impossible to do,” Zach Brenton, with Clemson University, said.

Edwards lost 70 percent of his peaches in 2016 and is hurting already from the fall’s heavy rains, so having a robot around would allow him to zero in on conditions plant by plant.

Clemson researchers are hoping they can develop crops that are tougher and able to handle the changing weather.

“Higher yield, resistant to pests, you can get away with fewer chemicals,” scientist George Kantor said.

Hopefully the information from the new technology will also translate to lower prices at the grocery store.

[READ: Frigid temperatures could devastate crops, raise prices]

“Less cost to you means less cost to me, right?” Ahrens asked.

“Yeah we can keep our costs down where you need them to be. We don’t have to have higher prices,” Edwards said.

Some farmers worry the initial costs to get the technology up and running are too expensive. The equipment can run up into the thousands of dollars.

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