Facing a diminishing workforce, some farmers in the United States are looking to artificial intelligence as a means to adapt to the changing labor landscape. In Florida, for example, Gary Wishnatzki of Wish Farms is rolling out AI-powered robots that are capable of picking his crops.
Wish Farms in FL made a name for itself as a producer of premium strawberries and blueberries. Strawberries are a particularly demanding crop; since every three days, the plant will give off new ripe fruit. If these fruits are not harvested according to their cycle, the strawberry plant dies.
According to Wishnatzki, his farms need around 600 workers to harvest his 600 acres of crops every two or three days. Thus, during season, workers are faced with very few rest days. In a statement to CBS News, Wishnatzki noted that his farms’ labor force, a significant number of whom is from Mexico, has been facing challenges over the past 15 years.
“We’ve seen a shrinking labor force and an aging labor force. People just aren’t showing up anymore to do this work. I started to look at what was really causing it. It was more of a demographic issue than a political issue or anything else. As the Mexican economy continues to improve as more fruit is being grown in Mexico, people aren’t going to be coming anymore,” Wishnatzki said.
In order to address his farm’s shortage of workers, Wishnatzki looked to automation through AI-powered robots. He co-founded Harvest CROO Robotics, a company aimed at developing a machine that can pick crops using robots and artificial intelligence. A few years later, Harvest CROO has created an AI-powered robot that uses imaging technology to determine which berries are ripe enough to pick. The technology behind the AI-powered robot was described to CBS News by Paul Bisset, Harvest CROO’s CEO.
“We’re collecting 50 to 100 images a plant, and all of those images are fed into our AI system in order to tell us, OK, this is a good berry, this is one we want to go after,” Bisset said.
Even farming giants are turning to Silicon Valley to advance their operations. Farming equipment producer John Deere, for one, has opened an office in San Francisco aimed at developing smart solutions that can be used for the agricultural sector. Alex Purdy, the head of John Deere Labs, stated that the future of farming lies in advanced tech.
“We know that we absolutely need to go and seek out capabilities in machine learning, in deep learning, in robotics and advanced analytics. And Silicon Valley has been receptive,” he said.
As we noted in a previous report, using technology in agriculture has been the focus of Kimbal Musk through his company, Square Roots. Square Roots converts old shipping containers into advanced vertical farms, which would enable even the most populated cities to have access to fresh, organic food. So far, Kimbal’s initiative continues to gain ground, just as his nonprofit, Big Green, continues to expand its reach into schools across America.