The distinct challenges in agriculture - limited resources, climate change, and increasing population have led to technological advancement. These challenges urge advancements in production, transport, storage, food processing, market infrastructure, and road access.
Modern agriculture has been revolutionized through mechanization and automation. Mechanization can range from hand or simple tools to large, motorized, and complicated machinery. According to The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO), "automation is the use of machinery and equipment in agricultural operations to improve their diagnosis, decision-making or performing, reducing the drudgery of agricultural work and improving the timeliness, and potentially the precision, of agricultural operations."
Even though technology positively benefits the agricultural system, it also causes some negative impacts brought about by the irresponsible use of mechanization. Mechanical and technological advancement have led to significant deforestation and excessive use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. Automation poses the risk of unemployment when it replaces the need for manual laborers.
Agricultural automation technology involves when at least one of the three phases of a farming operation cycle - diagnosis, decision-making, and performing, is automated. Early automation focuses on the performing aspect of the agricultural operation cycle, where motorized mechanization is mainly involved. Automation by motorized industrialization has already replaced the hand cultivation of soil, irrigation, harvesting, and packing.
The agricultural operation cycle's diagnosis and decision-making process has relied solely on human judgment for a long time because it needs human expertise and intellect to assess farm activities. Through digital technological advancement, human diagnosis and decision-making are now being automated. Digital technology includes the development of software, drones, robotics, AI, and sensor technology. Digital technology is critical as it makes a fully automated system possible.
Adapting an automated farm system will create jobs for farm automation equipment and data analysis. Still, the demand for manual labor will be significantly reduced. This will impact some countries with a high labor force that relies on agricultural jobs. Agricultural automation will only be able to be adopted with careful consideration.
Automation can increase the crop, fisheries, and animal production, pushing prominent industry players to adopt the technology. Extensive adoption of the technology may render low-skilled labor not needed. Labor displacement can be a significant problem in some countries with high numbers of agricultural laborers.
Even though there is the inevitable displacement of low-skilled labor in transition with the adoption of automation technology, the horizon for new opportunities is promising. In Zambia and other regions of Africa, the use of mechanized tractors showed an increase in production. In Mexico, the increased income from greenhouse automation made it possible for them to increase the wages of their laborers.
Some of the manual labor is still needed for specialized tasks. Harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables for consumption is hard to automate since these are delicate crops. Human intervention is still necessary for numerous farm tasks, such as machine operations and harvesting. Other manual work will be partially gone, but automation will only shift some human manual labor to other tasks.