A high-pitched whizz interrupts the screeching of the cockatoos as a small wheeled robot zips along the furrows in the soil.
Unlike its owner, this little farmer is untroubled by the heat. In fact, it's been working around the clock.
Late last night, it finished dry-sowing a crop in anticipation of a light rain that will fall in about 49 minutes. Long gone were the days of pre-irrigating the soil; truly smart devices knew how to work with nature's timing.
The robot, and many others like it, are linked not just to high-precision quantum weather models, but an entire networked supply chain driven by artificial intelligence and petabytes of data: AusSupply. In ordering this crop, AusSupply has factored in everything from rainfall to the surging demand for hot crossed buns over Easter.
Though it has reduced waste by close to 80% compared to half a century ago, none of this is particularly new or interesting for the farm’s owners, Grant and Abbie Kelly.
This latest crop, though... it's something special.
It's based on an ancient native Australian millet that Grant’s Aboriginal ancestors, centuries ago, harvested on this very same land.
Old Gran used to tell him the stories as a kid. Stories about the Aunties gathering and threshing the stalks; of seedcakes and bread made from hardy native grains, and strange tales of Baiame and magic grindstones.
For a curious young agricultural scientist, though, it was the stories of abundant harvests of panicum decompositum in even the hot Australian outback that had left the biggest impression.
This whole area they called Grass Country. 'Cause it can grow everywhere. No water here, but it's growing. Dirt, sand... doesn't matter.
There had to be at least as much data in Old Gran's cultural memory as the AusSupply.
With the high cost of water, like all raw materials these days, this panicum or "native millet" was a no-brainer for further research. Grant and Abbie’s company have created a hybrid using wheat genes, making it far more productive and commercially viable.
It's a highly adapted plant that needs minimal watering, which means Grant and Abbie can use the water saved on other crops.
The little robot stops suddenly.
Its camera can now see what sensors had picked up moments earlier: a squirrel-glider on the ground, looking rather lost. It must’ve fallen out of one of the many trees on this part of the farm, which is a transitional area between the intensive cropping zones and the dense bush zones that protect native critters like this.
Scanning the glider’s face, the robot discovers it’s S085900-003 again. She’s adventurous and has been found in this area four times previously. All known feral cats are currently far away. She has a 92% probability of survival.
The glider is not part of the farming operation, of course. But feeding 10 billion humans on a very finite planet requires a bit of give-and-take.
In a split-second, the robot is gone.
Today Amy is reviewing simulated watering strategies for the farm. The computer has already given her the most efficient one for the season, but she thinks it can do better. It’s not a particularly creative piece of software, and she’s proven the value of a human mind before.
It was about three years ago, when, out of sheer curiosity, Amy had run the simulation with some totally wild inputs: a 100-year drought, off-the-chart solar radiation, huge temperature fluctuations. Her dad looked over her shoulder and laughed, ‘we’re growing on Mars now, are we?’
Wikimedia Commons, Deepfield Robotics, Artem Smirnov and Vladimir Panchenko/Tuvie, Brooklyn Grange, Robert Garybosch, Kengo Kuma