March 2022 - 4

Innovation logical solution
Growers are poised to adopt automation to bridge the growing labor gap
and ensure that their crops can be picked on time, according to the Global
Harvest Automation Report, a first-of-its-kind study commissioned by Western
Growers (WG).
The report is the first in a new annual
series that will track, measure and report on
industry progress in harvest automation across
the fresh produce industry. Special focus for
this edition was selected crops, namely apples,
blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, lettuce and
The Global Harvest Automation Report
is part of WG's Global Harvest Automation
Initiative, which aims to accelerate ag
automation by 50% in 10 years.
The report's executive summary emphasized
that labor is a key requirement to harvest
specialty crops and typically represents 20-50%
of many specialty crop budgets. Recently, the
Economic impact of irrigation industry seen
Gary Pullano
labor gap has grown wider due to the unforeseen market disruptions caused
by the COVID-19 pandemic. But like many past evolutions of agriculture,
technology can provide solutions.
The premise of WG's work in this area is focused on the belief that harvest
automation can help tackle the growing labor shortage and ensure food
security for a growing population, while elevating and upskilling an entire
" One of the main aims of the report was to take a comprehensive look at
the entire harvest ecosystem and provide a quantitative look to the Western
Growers membership at how much harvest innovation is impacting their
operations across fresh products for specialty crops, where the most progress is
occurring, and why, " WG VP of Innovation Walt Duflock said in a news release.
" Second, we wanted to provide an in-depth view of the innovators who are
doing the heavy lifting by crop type, so growers would know who to contact
based on the crops they grow. "
Duflock stated in an introduction to the report that labor has for decades
been among the top challenges facing agriculture, next to water availability
and food safety. He noted the challenge is particularly steep for growers of
specialty groups such as those grown across most of California ag, with the
exception of tree nuts, whose harvest is almost fully automated.
" As with many ag problems, " Duflock wrote, " innovation is the solution. "
Among the findings of the report, which was prepared in collaboration with
consultants at Roland Berger:
* 65% of participating growers have invested in automation over the past
three years.
* The average annual spend on automation was $350,000-$400,000 per
* Spending occurred in preharvest and harvest-assist activities, including
weeding, thinning, harvesting platforms and autonomous ground
vehicles. It is anticipated that 30-60% of these activities will be
automated by 2025.
* Harvest automation itself remains limited because of the technical
difficulties in replicating the human hand to harvest delicate crops. It is
anticipated that 20% of harvest activities will be automated by 2025.
* The report attributed the relative lack of progress in harvest automation
mainly to " the technical difficulties in replicating the human hand to
harvest delicate crops. "
The report investigates the question of how robots can be used to offset the
shortage of experienced farm laborers to work in some of the world's most
productive agricultural areas.
It's clear the specialty crop industry, in particular, must pursue machine-aided
production to help tend crops as the ranks of farmworkers dwindle.
To date, most market-ready automation startups in the specialty crop sector
focus on comparatively easier harvest-assist and preharvest activities. The report
confirmed several harvest-focused startups are making progress and have
established an initial customer base.
Kudos to Western Growers for playing a unique role in bringing together the
entire agriculture community to take this essential automation effort to the
next level and beyond.
A new study measured the economic
impact of the irrigation industry in the
United States in 2020 and found that it
has been growing by 2% per year since
2010. It also found the industry has a
direct economic impact of nearly $9 billion
and indirect impacts of $23.3 billion,
creating more than 70,000 direct jobs.
EPA issues final rule on chlorpyrifos ban
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) announced Feb. 25 it was taking the
next step to discontinue use of the pesticide
chlorpyrifos on food by denying objections
to EPA's rule revoking all chlorpyrifos
Farm Bureau responds to Central Valley
Project plan
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced
Feb. 23 that it anticipates zero water
allocations this year from the Central Valley
Project, likely marking the second straight
year that California farmers and ranchers will
be denied critical water resources.
IFPA's Burns to take over as CEO; Stenzel to
Cathy Burns, currently co-CEO of the new
International Fresh Produce Association,
will become its singular CEO effective
March 31. Tom Stenzel, currently co-CEO
and past president of United Fresh, will
move into a consulting role, working closely
with Burns through June 2022.
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The Bud 9 Honeycrisp thing is very well established.
There's research behind that. We have that
combination and it definitely works. "
P. 12
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March 2022

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