Robot fruit pickers could help solve the industry’s skilled recruitment crisis, says a Kent farm manager.
Giles Cannon, who manages Roughway Farm near Tonbridge, says his farm has been “overwhelmed” with job interest in recent weeks as hundreds of people seek to work as fruit pickers.
It comes several weeks after a national call was made by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, urging students and furloughed workers to apply for seasonal farm work amid feared shortages.
However, hiring experienced staff has proved challenging for the agricultural sector, according to Mr Cannon.
Mr Cannon, who has worked in the farming sector for decades, said: “To call fruit picking an unskilled job is doing the industry a disservice.”
Farmers around the world are increasingly interested in robot technology to address the long-term decline in skilled labour, according to 2019 research carried out by Fieldwork Robotics, a company linked to the University of Plymouth.
In May 2019, the world’s first raspberry-picking robot was trialled in the UK. It significantly outpaced human workers in an eight-hour shift, studies showed.
“There is a real problem with finding skilled staff at the moment. Until full-scale robotic machines arrive and become a reality we are always going to need to find somebody to harvest the crops,” Mr Cannon added.