NAIO Technologies displayed one of its weeding robots in April at the Salinas Sports Complex in Salinas, California, at a press conference to generate interest in the FIRA USA event that brings together farmers and technology companies.  Walt Duflock, vice president of innovation for Western Growers, which is co-sponsoring the event, urges fruit tree growers to attend the September event.  (Courtesy of Richard Green Photography/ for Western Growers)
NAIO Applied sciences displayed one in all its weeding robots in April on the Salinas Sports activities Complicated in Salinas, California, at a press convention to generate curiosity within the FIRA USA occasion that brings collectively farmers and expertise firms. Walt Duflock, vice chairman of innovation for Western Growers, which is co-sponsoring the occasion, urges fruit tree growers to attend the September occasion. (Courtesy of Richard Inexperienced Pictures/ for Western Growers)
walt duflock
walt duflock

Labor stays one of many largest challenges in specialty crop farming. The issue stems from a shrinking home workforce, an immigrant workforce that’s not rising quick sufficient to offset the home hole, and better prices on account of transportation and housing prices for short-term labor. H-2A. All of that is combining to make the provision and value of labor a rising drawback.

In 2021, Western Growers launched the World Harvest Automation Initiative, with companions together with the Washington Tree Fruit Analysis Fee, to assist resolve this drawback. This yr, the initiative has been rebranded because the World Specialty Crop Automation Initiative to acknowledge that it’s about rather more than simply harvesting. Western Growers launched a number of strategic automation tasks to help the general initiative.

Annual Automation Stories

First, an annual automation report was developed that gives an evaluation of the worldwide job market, automation options within the early and later levels of growth, and the impression that innovators (startups and others) are making with automation options. . The progress of the businesses, by way of progress in fundraising, robots within the fields and markets entered, is tracked and verified.

In 12 months 2, the report delved into the impression of H-2A labor, managed atmosphere agriculture, and the way the European market compares to North America. We additionally included the 2022 Crop Robotics Panorama, which took an in-depth have a look at automation options by section. (See “The Farm Automation Quantity E-book.”) The following report in 2024 will embody an evaluation of potential manufacturing companions, channel distributor companions (i.e., gear distributors), and funding companions.

Pictures prepared

Second, we construct a picture library that gives a ready-to-use set of pictures for key specialty crops. This helps scale back the price of preliminary R&D and prototyping by permitting startups to obtain a set of pictures and begin working immediately, saving them months and tens to a whole bunch of 1000’s of {dollars} by not requiring them to construct your personal picture library. The picture library is open supply and free.

As of June, there have been 5 crops within the picture library and 360 library downloads. Sooner or later, we are going to recurrently add new crops and preserve monitor of downloads. We will even be reaching out to library customers to substantiate the worth pictures are creating for startups and innovators and to study issues we will do to enhance the picture library product.

Particular crop fund for brand spanking new firms

Third, an AgTech Toolkit for start-ups was launched to offer them with key information for the crop they’re engaged on. Reply questions like: What’s the dimension of the market? What’s the main use case and main edge circumstances and trade integration points that must be resolved? What are the financial points that the answer should meet to ensure that it to work for producers?

As of June, the starter toolkit had pages for apples and romaine lettuce; new crops shall be added recurrently. Up to now, greater than 970 members have accessed the toolkit. As with the picture library, we are going to work on monitoring utilization and figuring out new content material alternatives as we develop new pages to assist startups higher perceive producer points to allow them to create the fitting starter product for begin testing.

Convention talks and expertise capabilities

Fourth, FIRA USA launched final yr in Fresno, California as a three-day convention targeted solely on specialty crop automation. The occasion was successful by all metrics: there have been 1,000 attendees (unique aim was 300), and sponsors and exhibitors obtained important worth as a result of every attendee targeted on specialty crop automation. Attendees acquired nice worth from the panel discussions, exhibitor space, and discipline demos on Day 3.

This yr, FIRA USA strikes to the Salinas Sports activities Complicated with a brand new format: three days of outside exhibition the place attendees can work together with the robots and exhibitors always. The FIRA USA and World FIRA talks in Toulouse, France have made it clear that the primary factor that advances the gross sales course of for automation options is getting growers and startups concerned in a discipline atmosphere the place each robotic You may show your talents. There was a day of this in Fresno, and it required a bus journey to get there. This yr, there shall be three days of this in Salinas, with out the necessity for a bus.

You should attend FIRA USA if you’re in specialty crop automation. Greater than 25 automation options shall be on show, together with weeding, thinning, harvesting, planting, spraying and harvest help. There shall be grower panels, innovator panels, and R&D shows highlighting the newest efforts within the labs and the newest commercialized improvements within the fields. Others will handle rising traits, similar to how synthetic intelligence is accelerating automation progress and the way information integration tasks may help growers, weeders, and harvesters work higher collectively by sharing information throughout all the farm operation. manufacturing. FIRA USA could have greater than 1,000 attendees targeted on these points for 3 days. All the newest expertise that may profit tree growers shall be in Salinas in September, as will the groups that developed the options. In brief, in case your job entails the automation of specialty crops of any form, together with fruit bushes, that you must be a part of us for FIRA USA in Salinas this September.

by Walt Duflock

Walt Duflock is the vice chairman of innovation for Western Growers. He might be reached at

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