COVID-19 pushes agricultural sector towards robotic future

The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused serious downturn in operations across most industries as social distancing rules keep customers away and forces face-to-face interaction be kept to a minimum.

One industry that has begun to experience the impacts of COVID-19 is the agricultural sector, with labour management proving to be problematic as we head into the winter season.

In past years, farms would be swarming with local and international backpackers and visitors preparing to pick fruit and vegetables as seasonal workers.

But due to national and international travel restrictions, as well as social distancing rules, many agricultural businesses that rely on seasonal workers to turn a profit are finding it difficult to fill vacancies.

While some potential fixes to this conundrum such as extending visas for those already in the country and bringing workers over early to complete the 14-day self-quarantine period prior to commencing work have been bandied around, the pandemic does present the opportunity for the agricultural sector to explore the implementation of new technology on farms.

From drones to sensors to robots, technology has the potential to transform farming and provide a solution to the lack of labour available.

One such example of technology automating the farming process is the mango auto-harvester, a robot recently developed by a team at CQUniversity.

According to CQUniversity’s Professor Kerry Walsh, the mango auto-harvester takes out the guesswork of picking a perfect batch of mangoes.

“The harvester is part of an integrated system which will ensure farmers know exactly how much fruit is on their trees, when they will be in perfect condition for the consumer, and when to employ the right number of people for picking and packing,” said Professor Walsh.

It is innovation like the mango auto-picker that can increase efficiency on farms while putting a lesser strain on labour, ideal during a year where labour is hard to come by like this year.

“The end goal is to save costs and improve productivity on farm, while driving consumer demand by ensuring a top-quality eating experience every time,” explained professor Walsh.

The mango auto-picker joins such innovations as driverless tractors, pest and disease inspection drones and automated dairy systems as systems that are driving agriculture into the future and changing the way farming is done.

Source: Weekly times now | Agriculture 4.0

1 May 2020

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