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As Immigrant Farmworkers Become More Scarce, Robots Replace Humans

An automated harvesting machine uses a high-pressure water stream to cut lettuce heads, replacing many farmworkers.

U.S. farmers are increasingly turning to robots that can do the work traditionally done by humans.

Credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

In response to the diminishing supply of immigrant labor, the U.S. agriculture sector is increasingly turning to robots that can do the work traditionally done by humans.

Taylor Farms, for example, one of the world's largest producers and sellers of fresh-cut vegetables, recently unveiled smart machines that can assemble 60 to 80 salad bags a minute, double the output of a human worker.

Driscoll's, meanwhile, has invested in several robotic strawberry harvesting start-ups, including Agrobot, which uses imaging technology to assess a berry's ripeness before it is harvested.

Last spring, Christopher Ranch began using a 30-foot-tall robot to insert garlic buds into the sleeves in which they are sold.

While it remains difficult to replace the human eye and hand in handling delicate produce, further use of robots and other technology is "a long-term solution that must be pursued with vigor,” said Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, a large agricultural association that two years ago opened an innovation center to nurture agricultural technology start-ups.

From The New York Times
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