April 4, 2019

FME, Western Growers Coordinate California-Dutch Hackathon to Accelerate AgTech Development

As part of the recently signed MOU, Western Growers and FME came together to host a Hackaton at the Hannover Fair, the largest Industry Fair in the World. The hackathon focused on the challenges facing the agriculture industry in California and used a case study of a large farming operation in central California as the basis of the competition. A team of tech companies and students worked together to develop innovative and creative solutions, incorporating their knowledge from different sectors (logistics, high-tech, IT, agriculture & horticulture). Additionally, Michael Thurlow of  Mountain View Fruit Sales attended the event on behalf of Western Growers, providing insight on how to accelerate the development of agtech in both the Netherland and the United States. 

Due to the labor shortage, resulting in uncontrolled cost increases, and other increasing growing costs, many different considerations were provided to the competitors during the hackathon. Some solutions that resulted were creative, such as equipping fruit pickers with virtual reality/augmented reality tools to limit training and to increase the labor pool to be used. Other solutions were simpler like inventing machinery to help better sort fruit in the packinghouse.

In addition, the hackathon emphasized how it is important to use technology to further support the fruit pickers with so-called “cobots.” This is a balanced approach so that workers are not replaced but their productivity enhanced. Along those lines, a solution was designed to sort fruit in the orchard so that the costs of storage and handling can be limited and food loss reduced. And also, a team offered the idea to use autonomous trailers to transport the fruit to refrigerated storage, making the harvest more efficient.