For any sector to thrive, disruptive technologies and innovations must fall into place. In agriculture, growers constantly seek new ways to increase the yield per acre, and at the same time, deal with rising input costs. The global agricultural robots market size is expected to grow from USD $4.9 billion in 2021 to USD $11.9 billion by 2026, a CAGR of 19.3%.
Today we are breaking down the areas automation is growing in the produce industry.
Keeping Produce Fresher, Longer
A recent statistic has shown that over 30% of produce harvested is never consumed. Couple that with the last two years of supply chain slowdowns, several solutions are now in the market or coming to market to help the industry combat supply chain uncertainty. Recently, Vanguard collaborated on a project with US-based Hazel Technologies, whose product was created to increase resistance to botrytis (mold) with their trademarked technology.
Another trend to watch is technology that serves as a “produce fortune teller’s ball,” per se, to see what is happening inside a particular produce crop. Seattle-based Strella Biotechnology is one group leading this advancement with a new automated quality platform that builds technology to predict a fruit’s maturity. Israel-based Save Foods Inc. is another organization working to protect produce from decay through their patented blend of food acids.
AgroFresh Solutions recently launched VitaFresh Botanicals Life Select, an organic, plant-based coating that aims to keep produce fresh longer.
Growing and Harvesting Robotics
Farmers rely on seasonal workers to harvest their crops, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine have led to labor shortages across the industry. Farming robotics is a rapidly developing solution to combat the lack of personnel available for specific harvest periods. This has proven successful for larger produce items such as apples and lettuce. In 2019, Fieldwork Robotics completed field trials of a raspberry-picking robot. Now, two of their harvesting robots have been commercially deployed at farms that supply raspberries to supermarkets in the UK and other European countries.
Innovations in “soft” harvesting, where machines are equipped with delicate suction cups or padded grabbers is just one-way growers are protecting their fruit during autonomous harvests. In 2016, developers at Abundant Robotics created the first vacuum harvester. This device uses computer vision to identify apples and then sucks them through a soft hose at a rate of an apple per second.
Netherlands-based GroW created the tomato harvesting robot with a combination of 5 rotary and linear joints that ensures precise access to harvest vines.
Croptracker’s Harvest Quality Vision (HQV) is an exclusive technology that allows growers to scan a bin of produce with a camera attachment, which then creates a 3D model of the scanned fruit. From these scans, HQV analyzes the samples to determine the size, color profile, and quantity of apples scanned in just moments.
According to a recent report distributed by The Packer, the global food robotics market will grow at a 12.73% annual rate from 2021 to 2027. The global food robotics market reached a value of $1.9 billion in 2021 and will reach $3.9 billion by 2027, according to a news release about the report.
Food robots carry out complex manufacturing processes such as dispensing, feed placement, packaging and casing, pick-and-placing products into containers, sorting raw material, and labelling packages. They help perform repetitive and tedious production tasks at high speeds and in extreme conditions like high temperatures.
There are a number of organizations in the food robotics fields, including subsidiaries of Toyota Industries Corporation and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. With labor challenges growing, industry automation will only increase.
Corporate cyber-attacks are increasingly common, and the agriculture business is no exception to this. The FBI has already been warned about ransomware attacks on agricultural cooperatives potentially timed to critical planting and harvest seasons. The FBI stated that the attacks are “disrupting operations, causing financial loss and negatively impacting the food supply chain.” Greg Gatzke, president of Zag Technical Services, is one group in this industry working to arm the industry to be protected and prepared for any potential cyber threats.
We know the importance of people and relationships have in our industry. It is the cornerstone of what makes Vanguard a global industry leader. Watching the rapid evolution and complexity of how robotics is supporting the growth of the produce industry makes us excited for the advancements to come.