The robots are coming (because labor is still hard to find)!
Jennifer Marston put a good article together for AgFunderNews discussing the increased investment in automation by farmers and some of the main reasons. Two of the highlights: (1) 70 percent of survey respondents said they invested in automation in 2022; and (2) the average annual spend by farmers on automation increased from $350,000-$400,000 to $450,000-$500,000 from 2021 to 2022. Much of this investment is for weeding robots and harvest assist robots – both are in market with pricing that works for growers.
At the same time, demand is likely to increase because labor costs continue to increase and there’s an ongoing labor challenge around availability. Increased use of H-2A immigrant labor can help, but will not solve the labor shortage. Nearly half (45 percent) of survey respondents are using automation solutions for at least some of their weeding activity, and weeding robot startups like Carbon Robotics, Stout, Verdant, and Farmwise have raised significant capital to scale their operations.
Here is a link to the article by Jennifer. Jennifer sourced a lot of the data from the Specialty Crop Automation Report which Western Growers published last month. The report can be found here – https://www.agharvestreport.com/