The perfect pick: A push for robotics to solve the labour crisis

Agriculture as a whole struggles with finding enough workers — from dairy barns, to grain fields, and, perhaps most acutely, in the fruit and vegetable sector. Automation and robotics can most easily solve repetitive tasks, but designing and developing automation for high-value, highly perishable product is also highly complex — and expensive.

Part of the challenge, says Vonnie Estes, with the Producer Marketing Association, is that the produce and floral industry faces the double-whammy of high labour costs per unit (whatever that unit may be) because so many fruits and veggies must be hand-picked and the product itself has a very limited harvest window.

The lack of labour is a costly one. Estes says, at times, as much as 25 per cent of the strawberry crop has gone unpicked because of a lack of pickers.

Automation is seen as a solution, however one of the major issues with development of robotics for fruit and vegetable sector is the variety — an apple picker can’t be used to pick strawberries, or vice versa.

From assessing solutions, to integrating sensors and predictive technology in the field, hear more from Estes in this discussion with RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney, recorded at the Bayer AgVocacy Forum, at Orlando, Florida.