“Agriculture for hundreds of years has been an intuition business,” says Lux’s lead agricultural analyst Sara Olson in an interview. That will end as “precision agriculture” brings data and automation to traditional tasks, making farming more productive and profitable, she predicts. At first, robots will make existing jobs more productive. But jobs will ultimately be lost as robots assume more and more of the work. “Over time, there would have to be a shift,” says Olson. “It will happen slowly enough that I see an opportunity for people who want to be in the industry to learn how to operate machinery, manufacture the equipment, and service and support these new systems.”

Robots will likely make inroads fastest in areas where the labor is backbreaking, and peak harvest times create a short supply of workers. Most robots have been built for specialized tasks: grapevine pruners, lettuce thinners, strawberry picking and cow-milking robots. But corn and other commodity crops are already taking advantage of economies of scale to get ahead of the cost curve. Large corn farmers in the US are buying features like self-steering tractors to save money. Even though the technology isn’t expected to reach price parity with human labor until 2020 for most farmers, about 10% of US farmer have adopted the technology because of their scale, reports Lux.

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