Rise of the Agribots Coming Soon to a Farm Near You

There are 3 million immigrant and migrant farm workers in the United States. Collectively, they pick the majority of fruits and vegetables that are sent to grocery stores and farmer's markets across the United States. The 77 percent who are foreign born also send home millions of dollars to family in Mexico and other parts of Central America. But tough talk on immigration coming out of Washington, D.C., these days could make it harder for agriculture companies to hire seasonal farm workers, many of whom might be afraid to attempt to cross into the United States, even if they have seasonal papers to do so. But the biggest change coming to agriculture is not the debate over immigration, but the rise of the agribots that can pick fruit, shake pecans off trees, sort and stack plants and separate leafy vegetables from their roots.

Traditional farm workers at Taylor Farms in Yuma, AZ put in hours harvesting romaine lettuce

Agribots are being created and deployed in fields across the world. Robotics in industry is not new. Robots came to America's car factories in the early 1980s, displacing thousands of United Auto Workers members. Robots help doctors with delicate microsurgery. And industries ranging from news writing to art to data analysis and policing are using artificial intelligence and other bots to compute faster. Even restaurants are experimenting with robots that can make the perfect latte or a gourmet burger just how you like it.

A farm worker manually separates a romaine lettuce head from its root

The impact of robotics in farming can't be understated. If half or even a third of the 3 million farm workers are displaced by robots, it could pull millions of dollars out of the Mexican economy when those workers are not able to find employment in the states and return dollars to family back home. Labor, along with transportation costs and weather issues, are the main drivers of the U.S. agriculture economy.

A lettuce harvesting robot uses a burst of water to separate lettuce heads that are then conveyed into a holding area where fewer workers sort and bag the product
Cronkite student Hans Rodriguez, a native of Yuma, returns to tell the story for a 360 documentary on agribotics - coming April 2017
Cronkite students Vanessa Herb, Daniela Mendez and Hans Rodriguez got muddy and soaked while telling the story of agribotics


Vanessa Herb, Daniela Mendez and Hans Rodriguez

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