Robotics changes our world a little each day, and a new excitement in the farming sector as automated crop-picking arrive on the scene in the EU.
The European Union-funded CROPS project created a pepper-picking robot. Essentially the first of its kind, this robot leads the way for vast innovations in the farming sector. By employing snake-like arms, this robot methodically scours branches for ripe peppers before plucking them off with human-like dexterity.The #EU CROPS project has developed a pepper-picking robot.Click To Tweet
While the primary goal of this innovation aims to reduce the human component of crop contamination, migrant workers and their families are concerned about the effect on their seasonal wages.
Man Versus Machine
With an estimated value of over 370 million Euros back in 2010, the market for harvesting sweet peppers has continued to be fiscally impressive on a global scale. Peppers had a whopping 26 million metric tons produced globally, according to Zaria Gorvett of Horizons Magazine.
When agricultural labor stopped attracting local workers, the industry turned towards the aid of migrant workers. That has long been the standard.
Many industries implement mechanical harvesting, but human hands have an agility, a dexterity, and a quickness that machines have not been able to replicate.
Even in the case of the new CROPS robot, harvest quality lacks the human element.
Peter Piper no Longer has to Pick a Peck of Pickled Peppers by Hand
With its sci-fi like appearance, the tentacle-armed robot adorned with a camera moves along the crop row on a rail system. The camera takes pictures to correctly identify the subject and then promptly cuts the fruit and sends it to the fruit collection room. All of this the robot performs at a rather leisurely pace. The hope is that continued use and development will improve the CROPS project robot’s efficiency.
High starting, operating and maintenance costs of the CROPS project currently outweigh the production costs of the human workforce. As almost 200,000 immigrants from African arrived on the shores of Italy in 2016, there is no shortage of eager laborers. Agriculture is the first point of entry into the workforce.
Being able to gain quick work in the physically challenging and most often financially strapped industry is what keeps numerous immigrant families afloat in their new countries. However, with the automation of pepper-picking for example, the need for pickers could drastically decrease.
Most workers are subjected to long and arduous 12-16 hour days as cited in a recent article in the Guardian. Their working conditions are not up to par which leads to unsanitary environments given that conveniences such as restrooms and break areas rarely exist. Crop contamination via injury and body fluids while in the field are a huge issue.
CROPS Project: Farming 2.0
The introduction of new machinery that automates basic field labor will ultimately make unskilled employment options more limited. With constant innovations in the area of agricultural automation, farm machinery will be expensive at the onset.
However, once costs drop and advancements become more widespread, it will help to reduce crop contamination worldwide. But, the uncertainty of wages most often paid under the table to undocumented workers could serve to worsen the already expanding level of poverty.
So, EdgyLabs readers, give us your input on the advancements and possible adverse results from agricultural automation.