The Crush - October 2021 - 4

Regulatory Challenges to the Future of Farming
By Michael Miiller
California growers have reported the 2021 harvest has been one
of the most challenging in terms of unavailability of labor. To
address the immediate problem, some growers are providing
free housing or housing support. In some vineyards, wages are
as high as $30 to $40 per hour. And still, the availability of labor
does not meet the demand.
Planning for the future, many growers are exploring the potential
use of autonomous self-propelled ag equipment, which can
be very appealing. As one manufacturer advertises: " Tractor
operators can easily go from operating one tractor to managing
a fleet of eight tractors on the field. Remote fleet management
is possible...where operators can access 360-degree live video
feeds, detailed weather information and real-time operation
reports at the touch of a button. "
However, California workplace safety regulations state, " All
self-propelled equipment shall, when under its own power and
in motion, have an operator stationed at the vehicular controls. "
This means the operator must physically be on the equipment,
not at a computer screen.
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (board) in
2019 considered a petition from the Association of Equipment
Manufacturers (AEM) to amend the current regulation to permit
the use of highly automated ag equipment and autonomous ag
equipment in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions
and guidance. In its press release, AEM stated the regulation
needs to be fixed as it negates " many of the benefits of highly
automated agricultural equipment and autonomous agricultural
equipment. "
While board staff recommended convening an advisory
committee to discuss the issues raised by the petition, the board
instead rejected the petition outright. One board member stated
manufacturers claimed autonomous technology is safe, " but
when these devices and vehicles entered the test phase, there
were injuries and fatalities that occurred during their use. "
He also stated he does not think there is a labor shortage,
but rather a shortage of " good-paying jobs. " The board then
unanimously rejected the petition.
State Fund is the largest provider of workers' compensation
insurance in California. In providing guidance for the safe
operations of " driverless tractors, " it states the requirement
for an operator to be physically on the vehicle " is designed to
prevent the 'driverless tractor,' a situation where the driver hops
off a tractor while it is in motion in order to assist field workers.
This action leaves the tractor unguided by a human hand or
head. "
State Fund contemplated its guidance may be quickly outdated
and states, " Tractor technology is still changing; the computercontrolled
tractors of today could soon be the completely
autonomous machines of tomorrow. "
Keep in mind that autonomous self-propelled ag equipment
is guided by a remote human at the controls of the machine.
For example, autonomous ag equipment could be running a
pre-determined route set by a human with alerts sent to a fleet
coordinator. Existing safety requirements do not recognize this
By integrating the latest advances in autonomous technology
and software, autonomous self-propelled ag equipment can be
programmed to perform a series of tasks on demand. Safety
features include roll and collision prevention, vision-based power
takeoff safety, and 360-degree cameras to keep employees safe.
One company that manufacturers autonomous vineyard sprayers
advertises: " This progressive machine uses a combination of GPS,
LiDAR and the latest technology to autonomously roll down
each row spraying with precision and efficiency. "
Innovation, technology and science have long been ahead of
regulators. This is nothing new. Cal/OSHA and the board both
recognize employers are experiencing difficulties in complying
with mismatched regulations. But to move policymakers in
Sacramento to resolve this, they will need to be convinced of two
key facts:
1. This equipment is as safe as other farm equipment in use
2. This equipment is needed in large part due to the shortage of
Addressing these two key issues could result in a change in
current requirements that reflects the technology and could
unlock sustainable practices that were previously unattainable
given the cost. However, we also need to keep in mind there will
be opposition to any proposed change, and the burden will be on
manufacturers and growers to prove both of the points above.
4 OCTOBER 2021

The Crush - October 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Crush - October 2021

The Crush - October 2021 - 1
The Crush - October 2021 - 2
The Crush - October 2021 - 3
The Crush - October 2021 - 4
The Crush - October 2021 - 5
The Crush - October 2021 - 6
The Crush - October 2021 - 7
The Crush - October 2021 - 8
The Crush - October 2021 - 9
The Crush - October 2021 - 10