May 3, 2023Labor shortages driving increase in automation expenditures, report finds
Growers spent an average of $500,000 a year on automation last year, according to a Specialty Crop Automation Report released and commissioned by Western Growers (WG). The increase in spending is in response to the ongoing ag labor shortage, according to the report.
This is the second year the Specialty Crop Automation Report has been released by WG in collaboration with consultants at Roland Berger. The report, which tracks and measures industry progress in harvest automation across the fresh produce industry, is part of WG’s Global Harvest Automation Initiative, which aims to accelerate ag automation by 50% in 10 years.
“This year’s report takes a deep dive into some new areas: The European market, Controlled Environment Agriculture, and the innovator’s side of automation,” said Walt Duflock, vice president of Innovation at WG. “We found progress from a fundraising and traction perspective in key areas like weeding, spraying and harvest assist – and less progress in other key areas, notably harvest.”
Specialty Crop Automation Report findings
Around 70% of participating growers indicated that they had invested in automation in 2022, with an average annual spend of $450,000-$500,000 per grower. This shows a considerable increase since last year when average investments in automation were around $350,000 to $400,000 per grower per year.
Weed and harvesting segment
Most progress was made in the weeding and harvest assist segments; market-ready solutions are able to meet grower economic targets and alleviate key challenges, such as lack of labor availability. Growers reported ROIs for weeding solutions of less than one to two years depending on the type of crop and technology used.
Ag tech training
Growers want more trained ag tech personnel, with 50% indicating that they had internal employees who dedicated the majority of their time to the integration of automation investments. This suggests that the process of elevating and up-skilling the agriculture workforce is well underway.
Cost and advances
The time it takes to build automation solutions is getting shorter and the costs are getting smaller thanks to overall advances in robotics and non-agriculture fields that benefit ag tech startups, as well as the increasing talent pool that ag tech startups are able to add to their teams.
The Specialty Crop Automation Report is now available for download.