Horticulture survey highlights need for investment in robotics

The Anatis crop-weeding robot, demonstrated at the 2017 Cereals Show in Lincolnshire. Picture: Chris

The Anatis crop-weeding robot, demonstrated at the 2017 Cereals Show in Lincolnshire. Picture: Chris Hill. - Credit: Archant

A horticulture industry survey has highlighted a demand for more investment in automation and robotics technology, with 82pc of UK growers saying recent developments have already helped reduce their reliance on human labour.

The report by AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) Horticulture says areas of production with particularly high levels of manual labour– such as harvesting – are high priority for future research and investment, with nearly 60pc of growers identifying this as an area to focus on.

Most growers (80pc) said they knew of research into equipment that could be useful for their systems in future, from sensing technology and imaging analysis to moving robots and harvesting machinery.

Other responses highlighted a need for developments in transplanting and planting, crop monitoring, application of crop protection chemicals, transport systems, grading and packing.

Dr Debbie Wilson, AHDB's head of knowledge exchange, said: 'Labour utilisation is a clear priority in our current strategy.

'It's critical that our activities complement rather than duplicate existing industry developments, which is what this survey was designed to help us investigate.

'Many growers look to robotics as a solution to labour availability issues for the sector, although they recognise that new developments are likely to be long term. Our plans in this area include identifying new ideas from international horizon scanning and sharing best practice. This is where AHDB will focus its effort alongside our labour efficiency and developing best practice in business management.'