Apr 15, 2021
Harvest automation for produce industry accelerated by Western Growers

Western Growers is spearheading a Global Harvest Automation Initiative to accelerate harvest automation across the fresh produce industry, with a goal of automating 50% of harvest within 10 years.

“For well over a decade, our members have struggled with a dwindling number of available workers. If we don’t come together as an industry to quickly and efficiently deliver automation solutions for farmers in this country, it is likely that the shift of fresh produce operations to other countries will dramatically increase,” Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia said in a news release. “The Global Harvest Automation Initiative (GHAI) is aimed directly at this challenge, and the alignment of so many industry leaders and partners in this endeavor is a strong indicator of our shared commitment to success.”

The global initiative is comprised of several key projects uniquely designed to solve the ag industry’s labor woes while simultaneously helping harvest automation start-up companies commercialize and scale at a more rapid pace:

  • Technology Stack: A documented set of technical interfaces that will help startups leverage industry-standard components so their robots can get into fields and markets faster.
  • Harvest Automation Cohort: A cohort of automation startups will be selected based on industry input to receive exclusive access to systems integration to help integrate the tech stack into their product roadmap, strategy for go-to-market support, field trials and case studies.
  • Impact Report: A comprehensive analysis on the impact of harvest automation on the specialty crop industry will be provided annually based on grower metrics.
  • Harvest Automation Traction Roadmap: A list of current harvest automation startups by crop type and in-market progress/traction will be distributed regularly.

The technology stack will be built by a team of subject matter experts (SMEs) in ag and robotics:

  • precision ag companies (Trimble, Bosch)
  • original equipment manufacturers and platform companies (Ramsay Highlander, Oxbow and SPUDNIK)
  • AgTech engineering companies (Milano Technical Group, All-Phase Agricultural Engineering, Red Rooster Engineering and NWFM LLC)
  • WG members that are among the world’s largest and best farming operators at adopting new technologies (Grimmway Farms, Turlock Fruit Company, Church Brothers Farms, Superfresh Growers and Illume Agriculture)

The SME group will build a set of documented interfaces so startups can connect to tractor manufacturers like John Deere, sensor manufacturers like Bosch, navigation equipment providers like Trimble, and other manufacturing partners.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC) has been a key partner for WG in supporting the GHAI by providing recommendations for SMEs and harvest startups with traction based on WTFRC’s 52 years of experience with tree fruit innovation. In addition, WTFRC has committed $200,000 in funding over three years to support the overall GHAI initiative.

“The specialty crop industry needs to all work together to solve harvest automation by strategically accelerating the speed of innovation and adoption,” said Ines Hanrahan, executive director for WTFRC. “The platform approach Western Growers is taking is supported by both startups and industry as the best path forward to finally achieve this goal.”

WG held a hybrid in-person and virtual event on February 11, 2021, in Tulare, Calif., to announce the official launch of the Global Harvest Automation Initiative. Resources and detailed information about the GHAI can be found on the WG Center for Innovation & Technology webpage here.

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