Farming without machinery operators

The Hands-Free Hectare project at Harper Adams began in October 2016. \ Photo credit: Hands-Free Hectare.
The Hands-Free Hectare project at Harper Adams began in October 2016. \ Photo credit: Hands-Free Hectare.

Arable farming without human in-field intervention is taking place in the UK at present through a pioneering project at Harper Adams University.

Kit Franklin, the principle investigator behind the Hands-Free Hectare project, is coming to Northern Ireland to talk about the cutting-edge research for the first time.

The agricultural engineering specialist will speak at the Northern Ireland Institute of Agricultural Science’s (NIIAS) annual conference in Templepatrick later this month.

Kit will discuss how his team has managed to grow and harvest crops with only drones and autonomous vehicles and the future of agricultural technologies on commercial farms.

The award-winning Hands-Free Hectare project began in October 2016 with the aim of being the first farm in the world to plant, tend and harvest a crop without in-field human intervention, operators in the vehicle seats or agronomists in the field.

The team successfully harvested their original crop of spring barely and followed it with a crop of winter wheat a year later. Kit and his team now have ambitions to develop the world’s first Hands-Free Farm.

“Agricultural technology and engineering are developing rapidly and what seemed impossible only a few years ago is now a reality,” said NIIAS chair Francis Lively.

“In his first visit to Northern Ireland to discuss the project, it will be fascinating to learn how Kit and his team have developed the Hands-Free Hectare to date and hear what their plans are for the future,” he added.

The event is sponsored by First Trust Bank and is in association with the Institute of Agricultural Engineers. It takes place at the Hilton Templepatrick Golf and Country Club on Tuesday 26 March 2019 and opens with a networking supper from 6pm. This will be followed by an open meeting with the Institute of Agricultural Engineers from 7pm.

The cost of the networking supper is £15 for NIIAS members, £20 for non-members and £10 for students. Places should be booked in advance before Friday 22 March by contacting Francis Lively at or 07936648495. Online registration is also available by searching “NIIAS Hands-Free Hectare” on