The figure 25 percent surfaces in a couple of different but intimately related contexts.
As I noted in a column last month, mechanization of harvesting technology for fruits and vegetables still has a long way to go.
There is a blueberry harvester, but it simply shakes the bush, meaning that the berries drop indiscriminately. The shrinkage: 25 percent.
Then I turn around and see the 25 percent in another story: that’s the amount of the strawberry crop allegedly lost by Wish Farms BB #:111764 in Plant City, FL, as a result of labor shortages.
Wish Farms is “probably losing 25% of [its] crop each year just because of shortage of labor. So we’ve been working for the last seven or eight years trying to figure out how to pick strawberries automatically,” says Joe McGee, executive chairman and CEO of Harvest CROO robotics.
Harvest CROO has just finished commercial testing of a strawberry harvester. Each machine is 32 feet long and 18 feet wide and has 16 robots. Each one works independently to scan plants and find harvestable berries.
The robot “agitates the leaves, spins around, looks at the plant, decides what strawberries are ready to be picked.” It “creates a targeting solution, then picks it,” adds McGee.
The company says that each mechanical harvester can do the work of between 6 and 10 human pickers.
McGee says that 70 percent of the strawberry industry has invested in the picker.
Harvest CROO plans to have harvesters ready by December for the Florida season. It plans to make 1,700 harvesters. The company will neither sell nor lease the machines. Instead, it says, it will do the harvesting itself, at a rate competitive to the cost of human harvesters. It will move its fleet between Florida and the West Coast.
The new device is hopefully a major step in the direction of remedying the strawberry industry’s labor shortage.
At any rate, it puts a whole new spin on the concept of farm labor contracting.