Defra publishes evaluation into on-farm automation amid labour shortages


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Defra has revealed the outcomes of a evaluation exploring how the horticulture sector could make use of revolutionary tech akin to packhouse automation, AI enabled robotics and autonomous guided automobiles.

With labour shortages affecting the sector because of the impacts of the pandemic and Brexit, the evaluation of automation was launched to assist scale back the sector’s reliance on migrant staff.

The evaluation introduced collectively specialists throughout horticulture and know-how to grasp what could be required to speed up the event of automation applied sciences.

Suggestions have now been revealed, together with establishing a consortium that brings collectively authorities and trade to drive adoption of confirmed applied sciences.

Authorities should additionally undertake a mission-led strategy to fast-track new tech, and the horticulture sector ought to set up working teams to share novel harvest practices and contemplate how greatest to make the trade extra enticing for staff.

An extended-term Seasonal Employees Scheme for edible and decorative horticulture must also be set as much as assist stabilise workforce pressures.

The federal government mentioned it could contemplate the report’s suggestions and publish a response sooner or later.

Defra Secretary George Eustice, who co-chaired the evaluation with Professor Simon Pearson from the College of Lincoln, mentioned: “There are alternatives for brand spanking new robotic applied sciences to cut back prices and labour necessities in horticulture within the years forward and this evaluation highlights the potential for this.”

The evaluation ran for six months with enter from stakeholders throughout horticulture, the agri-robotics and automation sectors, academia and the general public sector.

The evaluation is evident that though robotics and automation applied sciences have an important position to play, there’s not more likely to be a single resolution to resolving labour pressures within the sector.

Professor Pearson added: “Our profitable horticulture trade is dealing with unprecedented stress to step change labour productiveness.

“Productiveness acquire reduces the reliance of the sector on seasonal migrant staff, secures vibrant rural companies and the move of excessive well being meals at honest values to customers.

“This evaluation was undertaken to grasp how we will speed up the event and adoption of automation and robotic applied sciences throughout the fruit, vegetable and decorative manufacturing sectors.”

What are the total suggestions?

The automation evaluation’s full suggestions embrace:

• Defra ought to contemplate pursuing a long-term Seasonal Employees Scheme for edible and decorative horticulture beginning in 2022

• Defra ought to contemplate convening a consortium that brings collectively UK authorities departments, horticulture trade and know-how corporations to drive important adoption of accessible and confirmed applied sciences by growers

• Defra ought to contemplate launching a robotic crop harvester mission to fast-track revolutionary analysis and improvement of programs at present within the ‘valley of demise’ (prototype stage)

• Defra ought to contemplate main a evaluation of economic and monetary assist for automation in horticulture

• The sector ought to establish, develop, and share automation infrastructure greatest follow amongst growers to assist them transition from labour-intensive to technology-intensive operations

• The sector ought to develop its future abilities pipelines and contemplate methods to draw and retain expert employees

Supply: Farming UK

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