BASTROP, Texas — Texas farms covered 126 million acres in 2021. In April 2022, Brandon Alexander opened Iron Ox in Lockhart, a hydroponic farm using data collection and robots to grow food closer to population centers.
"A big part of our design is to decentralize the farm and grow fresher, local food closer to the consumer," said Alexander, who grew up going to his family's farm in the panhandle. "Part of setting up in Texas is that we want to serve the Texas community with food that was grown this day to get you that freshest food possible."
The robots carry "grow modules" of leafy green plants, such as basil and lettuce, that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Staff at Iron Ox collect data on each plant including how fast it grows in certain light settings, how much water and food it needs, etc.
"We have hundreds of these grow modules in production, and by end of the year, we're going to have thousands of them in that facility," Alexander said.
While Iron Ox uses robotics and data collection, Becky Hume runs VRDNT Farm with classic "technology."
"I actually argue that like dogs and domesticated animals are some of our most original farm technology," Hume said. "You see it, you go out to farms and ranches all over the country and you see that farmers have very specific breeds of dogs that do jobs for them. That's farm technology, you know, and maybe there are ways that in the future we could even enhance that. Maybe we'll have GPS collars on dogs that give them signals that help us herd the sheep even better. I'm not against any of that, but sometimes it's like, do we need to reinvent the wheel when we have so much good stuff that we work with?"
Hume prides herself on using tried and true, high-efficiency technology. At the same time, she argues that each farm has its own unique needs and solutions.
"Every farm is a system, an ecosystem of the humans and the plants that interact, and it's all about finding the right tool for the job and the appropriate solution for the problem at hand," Hume said.
At the end of the day, these farms work together to achieve one goal: bringing food to your table.
"Farming is like really, like, one big relationship. It is a relationship with your ecosystem, a relationship with your community," Hume said.
"I believe the future of farming is a hybrid solution. It's robotics, technology, computer vision, A.I. to do a lot of the repetitive, tedious tasks. And then it's using humans to do the more skilled and more complicated tasks there. I think it's that combination of both robotics, A.I. and humans coming together to make this the most efficient logistically," Alexander said.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO READING: