Farmers Expect Robots to Join Seasonal Workforce
A growing number of fresh food producers in the UK are considering introducing robots into their farm and packhouse operations.
James Foskett Farms in Bromeswell, East Suffolk, recently invited experts from the automation market HowToRobot.com for a visit to its organic farm to explore opportunities to automate manual labour.
“We wanted to see if it was possible to get a robot in the field to weed the carrots,” said Zoltan Palnik, Packhouse Manager at the farm.
The on-site visit was part of a free offering to members of the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) in collaboration with HowToRobot.com. It helped the farm explore possible automation solutions and open a dialogue with vendors from abroad with the right solutions. As a result, the farm discovered solutions that were able to do both the seeding and weeding.
“Before the visit, I had no idea about what was possible. The help and proposals we received have absolutely changed my mind about what we can automate,” said Zoltan Palnik.
Labour shortages are driving farms and packhouses to automate
James Foskett Farms is not alone in pursuing robots and automation. There are considerable opportunities to automate within the grower and packhouse environment.
“On this basis, we are offering the opportunity for unbiased expert advice directly to our members and encourage them to take it, dispel the myths around automation and secure their future,” said Nigel Jenney, CEO of the FPC. “The shortage of staff is a major business challenge which cannot be solved easily. However, automation can be a cost-effective way to become less dependent on manual labour.”
Since Brexit, it has become increasingly difficult for seasonal workers to get entry into the UK. A lack of workers has already forced some farmers to let their produce go to waste, while others are giving up on growing the most labour-intensive crops.
“We are not sure if we will have enough people next year. There will always be a need for manual labour, but automation can make us less dependent on it,” said Zoltan Palnik, also mentioning the rising wages as a factor for automating.
Automation is on its way to help other UK farms & packhouses
The FPC and HowToRobot are extending their collaboration to provide free expert assistance to fresh food producers in the UK.
As more farms consider automation, many are still unsure about where to start according to Sohabe Richyal, robot and automation advisor from Gain & Co. Getting the right help early on helps them know where to begin.
“Many farm and packhouse businesses are not fully aware of everything that is possible today. Robot technologies have advanced rapidly in just a few years and are in many cases capable of doing field work such as seeding and weeding as well as sorting, handling, packaging, palletising, and a range of other tasks,” said Sohabe Richyal.
FPC member benefit: Free automation help
Learn more about how robots and automation can solve the labour challenges in your fresh produce business. Read more and apply for a free expert visit worth £3,000.