Farmer turns to using FarmDroid machines

Robots transform drilling and weeding for Shropshire flower farm.

Shropshire Petals, which grows and sells natural petal confetti, was started by Michael and Rosemary Bubb in 2005 as a way to diversify their Shropshire farm.

Sons Jim and John now run the farm and they’ve since brought on some very different team members: three FarmDroid robots that plant delphiniums and then weed around the precious plants.

Precision weeding

Weeds have been a perennial challenge for the flower farm, which grows varieties including calendula and cornflowers alongside their main crop of delphiniums. Jim explains: “The flowers can take 25-30 days to germinate. But before they get to that point, a mass of weeds can grow, so you can’t see the flowers.” 

Previously the farm had relied on manual labour and mechanical hoes to deal with weeds. But this has become increasingly difficult, as Jim explains: “Over the years, there has been a massive increase in the cost of labour for weeding. There’s also a question over the availability of people for weeding - it’s not a nice job.”

As well as the labour challenge, traditional machinery wasn’t accurate enough for effectively weeding around the flowers, without damaging them. So Jim and team decided to invest in a more innovative solution, turning to the FarmDroid machines.

“They’re simple to use and you control them off your phone app,” Jim explains. He adds: “Because of the robots’ high precision GPS – allowing them to remember exactly where millions of seeds are planted within a few millimetres – they can start weeding the field as soon as the day after the seeds have been drilled. So, given how long it takes the flowers to germinate, we can gain 25 days of weeding.”

He says the investment in the farm’s first robot quickly paid off. “You could argue we made back our investment in a year”, he says. “We bought our first robot in the middle of Brexit, at a time when we couldn't get anyone to weed our fields. Without the robot we have had no crop at all and no sales.” 

Another advantage for Shropshire Petals, which has a strong focus on sustainability, is that their robots are each powered by solar panels. Also, they’re lighter than tractors, which means they’re better for the soil, reducing the risk of compaction.

Keeping up with technological change

A lot has changed under Jim’s stewardship of the farm and we have been proud to help along the way. Jim says: “NFU Mutual are always at the end of the phone if need be. If something happens, it’s reassuring you can always speak to someone.”

We're proud to support farmers like Jim. We understand the challenges facing farmers, as well as the role that technology can play in helping them create a successful future.

We also understand the importance of making the most of that technology when you have it. In the case of Shropshire Petals, Jim and team are now working on ways to make more use of their robots, beyond drilling and weeding their primary crop, delphiniums. They’re trialling the machines with other flowers that they’re growing on the farm. 

Jim says: “Having robots that are solar powered and can run 24 hours a day is a win-win scenario for us”.

To see how we can help with your Agri-Tech journey, contact your local agency office