December 2022 - 1

Automation eases some tasks, but focus is on harvest
Naio's Orio robot, equipped with weeding machinery from German manufacturer K.U.L.T., can be customized to perform various duties in the field. Photo: Naio
By Chris Koger
Managing Editor
As Congress prepares yet again to
consider agriculture labor reform through
the Farm Workforce Modernization
Act, dozens of autonomous sprayers,
weeders and cultivators are entering
fields, orchards and vineyards every day
in California.
The state is a testing ground for
new technology, increasingly more
sophisticated as companies seek to crack
the Holy Grail of specialty crop tech
success: an efficient harvesting machine
that can tell when a vegetable is ready, and
then cut, pick or dig it up.
Hundreds of growers, academics
and Extension agents, tech startup
representatives and others discussed the
current state and future of robotics and
autonomous machinery in agriculture
at the inaugural FIRA-USA conference
on ag robotics and automation. The Oct.
18-20 event featured a day of education
sessions, a day of manufacturers
promoting their equipment and a day of
demonstrations in fields and a vineyard.
The opening panel session on the needs
and challenges of developing automation
in agriculture underscored how the lack
of labor is pushing manufacturers and
growers into partnerships as technology is
tested in real-world conditions.
One robot, one crop concept
Walt Duflock, vice president of agtech
innovation for Western Growers, said
three issues have overshadowed growers'
concerns for decades: food safety, water
and labor. The U.S. has lost 70% of its
farmworkers over the past few decades,
he said, and the number of participants
in the H-2A temporary visa program
grew six-fold in the past 16 years, to about
300,000 last year. While the program
secures workers, it also sets wages and
mandates growers supply workers
housing and transportation.
See FIRA-USA, page 5
Locati Farms counters higher costs, supply shortages
By Doug Ohlemeier
Assistant Editor
Locati Farms, a Walla Walla,
Washington, sweet onion grower, adapts to
challenges by changing growing practices
and using technology to improve the
quality of the region's namesake onion.
For more than a century, Locati Farms -
now in its fourth generation - has grown
sweet onions in the foothills of eastern
Washington's Blue Mountains.
Like other growers, Locati Farms
has adjusted the way it does business to
continue to remain profitable. Soaring
input costs are among the farming
operation's most pressing issues, which also
include labor and weather factors. Every
year, Locati struggles to secure qualified
crews to harvest, pack and ship the onions,
said Mike Locati, owner operator.
To counter supply shortages and
receive parts and products like fertilizer
and tires when needed, Locati plans
five months out. In case a second unit
won't be available when needed, Locati
pre-purchases, doubling orders on
replacement parts. The downside, of
course, is higher up-front costs and
difficulty making purchasing decisions
See LOCATI, page 7
Mike Locati of Locati Farms views Walla
Walla sweet onions. Photos: Doug

December 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of December 2022

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