US: Is agriculture moving toward robotics?


In a new report by market analysts and consultants Tractica it is stated that global shipments of robots designed for agricultural use are set to rise to a value of $87.9 billion by 2025.

“Robots and automation technologies have the potential to dramatically improve crop quality and yields, reduce the amount of chemicals used, solve labor shortages, and provide hope for the economic sustainability of smaller farming operations,” said a company spokesperson.

That’s timely news for farmers and food producers on both sides of the Atlantic. Both the UK and the US are seeing significant problems associated with agricultural labor, which are being exacerbated by economic and political pressures.

In the US, there is a massive demand for farm workers from abroad and rises in wage levels, despite a more isolationist attitude to immigration from the incumbent government. Across the pond, UK food producers, who rely heavily on migrant workers from the EU at harvest times, are feeling the pinch from the exodus of the workforce as the country plunges into the economic mire caused by Brexit.

In Washington State, on the US west coast, the minimum wage is set to rise to US$13.50 an hour, a rise that Karen Lewis, a tree fruit specialist at Washington State University says could cost a farmer with 250 acres around a quarter of a million dollars.

The robot benefits from current trends in apple cultivation, which encourages the growth of the fruit on open trellises, and uses dwarf varieties of apple trees carefully bred over many years. Rather than grab for the ripe fruit, the robot sucks individual fruit from the boughs, after LIDAR and imaging technologies identify ripe candidates.


Publication date: Fri 17 May 2019

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