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A driverless tractor. Photo: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driverless_tractor#mediaviewer/File:Case_IH_745_XL,_Claas-M%C3%A4hdrescher.jpg">Lifetec18</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
A driverless tractor. Photo: Lifetec18, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Robots are coming to North Country farms

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A Potsdam-based startup company called Agbotic is working on machines that can till soil, plant seeds, and even kill pests without a human operator. The company plans on testing the devices on St. Lawrence and Jefferson county farms this summer.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

John Gaus envisions a new kind of farming where robots do tasks that he thinks farmers shouldn't have to, such as "clipping, aeration, seed broadcasting, and raking." Gaus is Agotic's founder, and he's inventing a couple of different kinds of robots to work the farm more efficiently than people can. He says one kind won't look much different than a tractor.

Another kind of device automatically tills soil, waters plants, and harvests some vegetables. That machine won't look like a normal farm vehicle. It's a little shrouded in mystery, because Gaus says he can't get into specifics. Patents are still pending.

Agbotic just finished the design phase. They have a few early models, and now, Gaus says he's working on getting more of the bots made, "So, sometime within the next couple of months, we'll be testing our prototypes." He says he already has a commitment from North Country Farms, a food processing and distribution company in Watertown, to buy produce grown by these robots.

Will this take jobs away from farm workers?

"Absolutely not," Gaus says. "When you look at organic vegetable farming, one of the constraints to growing an operation is availability of labor. And very often the labor that goes into those jobs is part-time labor and low-wage labor."

He says putting agricultural robots to work would create a whole new class of skilled technician and machinist jobs. "We think we will create actually a considerable number of jobs at an above-average wage for northern New York," he says.

Gaus says he'll recruit local residents to help program and repair the robots – but that part of the plan isn't his main focus. Right now, he says, it's all about bringing those prototypes to St. Lawrence and Jefferson county farms this summer.

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