Some farmers are responding to the worsening farm labor shortage by turning to automated harvesting equipment and other advanced technology that perform tasks such as pruning, seeding and weeding.
Robotic harvesting vehicles are being tested in Florida and California to pick strawberries and replace labor-intensive tasks normally performed by dozens of farm workers. Also, robotic machinery is being tested to harvest apples and other crops, and efforts are underway to develop small agriculture field robots that can attack weeds or take care of other farm work.
Large farming companies are helping to champion the robotic solutions by sometimes becoming strategic investors in the technology firms and by participating in testing of the next-generation farm equipment. It comes as advancements in processor speeds also have paved the way for robotics to become more practical and cost effective.
"We're seeing more and more of a move towards just technology in general, whether it's robotics or mechanization," said wine grape grower Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "We've seen some incredible improvements there, and for us to remain competitive in California just because of so many areas of cost and the lack of needed individuals to help us bring in the harvest we're going to have to rely upon this technology."