FarmBot – is this the future of agriculture?

The FarmBot has gotten a lot of attention ever since its public funding started in 2016. In the promotional footage, we were presented with a machine that can do basically every kind of garden work (seeding, watering, weeding), apart from harvesting produce.

The machine works just like a CNC (or a 3D printer, if you will), so a magnetically linked head works in XZY directions. It is capable of switching between heads for the various work processes on its own.

It’s important to mention how the whole project is open source, and thus, the whole list of components, the 3D models and the software are all accessible for free, to be used and be improved upon.

Originally, in 2016, I couldn’t possibly justify the investment. The original FarmBot Genesis cost $2,595.00 and it could maintain a garden bed of 3 meters by one and a half meter. That means $580 for one square meter.

I started a conversation through e-mails with the person behind the project, and I was told that their primary (and reasonable) goal, was to develop something for household gardens. However, he also said that the measurements could be increased theoretically. Practically, however, this would lead to further issues that needed dealing with, such as weight and heat expansion.

The FarmBot XL was finally launched this year. It works on an area four times larger, so it can maintain a garden bed twice as wide, and twice as long (3 meters by 6 meters) as its predecessor could. Any gardener among the readers will instantly know how 18 square meter is a huge surface and more than enough to easily produce the vegetable needs of small family.

Thus, the price by square meter decreased to $210. Were we living in the USA, our costs would be significantly lower and also vegetable prices would be much higher. This would result in much better returns on investment (you can read more about farmbot ROI here).

On the Y axis, the dimension can theoretically be further increased, and so, I will soon experiment with a 3 meter by 9 meter garden bed.

Will this save the world then?

Not really.

I stand by my opinion that this technology (alone) will not bring the salvation we seek.

Furthermore, I firmly believe that technology can only be a tool, and it is up to us, what kind of approach and insight we use it with. When sawing off the branch one’s sitting on, it makes a vast difference if one uses a nail file, a hand saw, or a chainsaw.

I would say, that currently, there are only few people, who could assemble the machine with ease, even if they would order the whole as a kit, instead of gathering each component themselves. After piecing together two open source 3D printers, I look forward to the task with confidence.

Another issue is the fact that at present, there’s no real chance of getting return on investment in case of use in household gardens.

Moreover, it’s not possible, or not feasible to produce every kind of vegetable with it. For start, all plants in the garden bed must be under 50cm 1 meter (in the new 1.4 version). The FarmBot it best suited for growing leafy greens, such as salads, arugula, spinach, etc.

If FarmBot would gain currency, our ecological footprint might be decreased, as the produce need not be transported halfway across the globe to be consumed. A completely “eco” approach in production is also achievable and subservient /practical, thus further reducing the strain on our enviroment.

However, the FarmBot is not the solution for diminishing and turning back the ecological impact of pollution and greenhouse effect. The best way to solve this complex issue – to the best of my knowledge – is controlled grazing, orchard forestation (?), no-till agriculture and the general production of quality topsoil (meaning, the fixing carbon into the soil).

So, why do you have one anyway?

I firmly believe that more brains and brainpower should be utilized for solving ecological issues. If only we would take a fraction of the time wasted on TV, Netflix, or mobile apps, and instead employed it to care for the environment and research solutions, the danger would be far from imminent.

I consider the FarmBot a step towards future initiatives, and I fully agree with its objectives of entirely localizing food production, so as to have fresh produce within arm’s reach. Evidently, any place that has sunlight and water can be used to grow food.

The price of the machine can continuously drop in the future. For this to be the case though, it is necessary for more and more people to use it. This way, mass production can commence and the more people use it, the more people can come of with idea for improvements and revisions. More pioneers are needed, so as to seek less profit, and more progress in this project.