The shortage of labor has had significant impact on the produce and floral industries in recent years.
The crisis has grown to the extent that many commodity groups rate labor as the most concerning issue they face today, surpassing water availability and food safety. At the same time the industry is facing labor uncertainties, a number of new technologies are emerging that offer produce and floral growers and distributors across the global supply chain options for mechanizing or automating select operations or alternatives that permit them to work more effectively and efficiently, thereby reducing overall labor needs.
Tools to enable precision agriculture, automated field and processing operations, artificial intelligence (AI), an array of new sensors, and increased computational capacity are fueling serious efforts to reduce reliance on manual labor and evolve the produce and floral industries to their next growth phases. Believing that we learn best from our peers, we will examine current produce and floral innovations focused on automating various tasks within the industry and discuss the opportunities and challenges they represent.
We will also explore the potential impact of AI and the gains that are being made to harness this technology that will permit machines to take on tasks that heretofore have been the province of humans. We will also describe how to evaluate your operation to identify areas where automation might make sense and how to develop a technology road map to guide your efforts. However, the effort to reduce reliance on manual labor is more than just automating operations; it can also be about simply working smarter and more efficiently.
We will look at several areas where technology is driving the development of tools that can facilitate a more efficient and productive workplace and thereby reduce labor dependence. Lastly, we will focus on the impact the adoption of new labor-related technologies will have on the remaining labor force and the expertise that will be required to operate that technology.
The current labor issues we face are real and not likely to be solved by a wave of new immigrants willing to take on the challenges of agricultural work. Therefore, the decisions we make in the next 5-10 years to evolve our industry via the adoption of new technologies and away from its dependence on heavy manual labor will be critical for its sustainability.
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