It was just a matter of time…

Researchers are now designing robots for these most delicate crops by integrating advanced sensors, powerful computing, electronics, computer vision, robotic hardware and algorithms, as well as networking and high precision GPS localization technologies. Most ag robots won’t be commercially available for at least a few years.

Farmers say farm robots could provide relief from recent labor shortages, lessen the unknowns of immigration reform, even reduce costs, increase quality and yield a more consistent product.

“There aren’t enough workers to take the available jobs, so the robots can come and alleviate some of that problem,” said Ron Yokota, a farming operations manager at Tanimura & Antle, the Salinas-based fresh produce company that owns the field where the Lettuce Bot was being tested.

In recent years, as the labor supply has tightened and competition from abroad has increased, growers have sought out machines to reduce labor costs and supplement the nation’s unstable agricultural workforce. The federal government, venture capital companies and commodity boards have stepped up with funding.

“We need to increase our efficiency, but nobody wants to work in the fields,” said Stavros G. Vougioukas, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis.

But farm worker advocates say mechanization would lead to workers losing jobs, growers using more pesticides and the food supply becoming less safe. Personally here I see no difference in the use of pesticides at all maybe less. And it should be up to the farmer how and what he uses to harvest his crops. Sure there will be jobs lost but at the same time even those coming across the border to work are not doing it any more the way it use to be. So we need machines to do the field work, it’s cost-effective in every way.

“The fundamental question for consumers is who and, now, what do you want picking your food; a machine or a human. I personally don’t care. a machine that does the job quicker and as reliable or better than a human has my vote when it comes to harvesting. I have worked in the farming industry, I know what it takes to bring in a crop. And people never think about the accidents and insurance rates these farmers have to pay out when someone is hurt being stupid in many cases. Accidents do happen and if a machine breaks down you just replace a part and you’re back in business.  And before anyone starts whining, a farmer is into farming because he likes it and also because he can make a decent living at it if they play their cards right. Farm workers are in short demand because they don’t want to do the work anymore. Times and things are a changing.

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