Agriculture Automation Update

Automation is a big win for many kinds of tasks. There are jobs that machines can do better because they require greater speed, precision, or power than human beings can achieve. There are jobs that should be done by machines because they’re unsafe or unsatisfying for human workers. And, increasingly, there are jobs that are hard to fill. This is another area where automation can save the day — agriculture is a prime example.

Agricultural work is not an obvious good choice for automation, because robots aren’t very good at it. Pit a human against a machine when you want some paper cups made, and the robot will beat the pants off the human. Picking strawberries? Not so much.

In fact, a controlled comparison of robot and human strawberry pickers found that the automated pickers got only 20% of the berries, while humans got 80%. A year later, a repetition of the test got close to half the berries correctly picked — still much worse than he human workers. Robots also dropped berries that were larger than expected, and didn’t even try to retrieve those berries.

In general, agricultural machinery can’t match human farm workers. It’s also generally quite expensive, even though it doesn’t need breaks or holidays.

Goodbye, farmworkers

Strawberry growers and other agriculture businesses are having a hard time finding human workers. There are fewer immigrants coming to the U.S. to do this kind of work, and natives don’t want these jobs. Growers have raised wages to an average of more than $13.00 an hour and will soon be paying overtime in some states. Even so, there is a shortage of agricultural workers.

Crops are being plowed under because of labor shortages. Family farms are folding because the younger generation isn’t willing to embrace the hard life of the farmer.

The solution? Automation.

Rexroth produces tractors (the first, and highly successful example of agricultural automation), combine harvesters, field sprayers, feller bunchers, and skidders. Rexroth motion control systems also power other agricultural machinery, taking advantage of electronics and software to increase efficiency and sustainability to the ultimate benefit of agriculture and agribusiness.

Beyond what happens in the fields, automation  can also help with processing and packaging, as well as related jobs from fish farming barges to reducing energy needs for tea packaging.

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