The State of Play for Farm Robotics

Farm Robotics startups are a captivating segment of the agrifood technology sector, partly because robots are fascinating to watch, but also because the problems they solve are pressing, not least the issue of labor.

“We can import labor, or we can import our fruits and vegetables,”  said John Oxford of the Produce Marketing Association at a congressional hearing in May of 2016. The dearth of agricultural labor is a continuing issue on both sides of the Atlantic. Political uncertainty on the US side is causing the supply of both legal and illegal migrant workers to dry up, and the falling value of Sterling against the Euro in light of Brexit has led to similar problems in the UK.

“The [workers] that are here are just not enough for what we need to harvest. This political instability has made our region suffer a lot when it comes to harvesting the food that we eat,” said grower Javier Zamura on stage at the Forbes Agtech Summit in June.

But replacing human hands with robots in ever-changing, inconsistent, outdoor environments is easier said than done. It is tempting to compare a farm to a factory with so many complicated products now manufactured completed devoid of physical human interaction, but both growers and field robotics entrepreneurs agree that integrating robots into fieldwork is much more difficult.

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