A large UK agri-food consortium has been formed to address agricultural labour shortages by accelerating the use of robotics and automation (R&A) for picking and packing fresh fruit and vegetables.
The consortium plans to trial several new robot-based systems this growing season, on farms producing strawberries, apples, blueberries, lettuce and broccoli. Approved technologies will then be manufactured at scale and fully implemented for the 2021 season.
The effort is being coordinated by the University of Lincoln, the National Farmers Union (NFU), Agri-EPI Centre, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), with the backing of more than 100 of the UK’s fresh food producers.
The consortium is focusing on five areas for action:
- Driving collaboration across the robotic, engineering and farming communities
- Securing appropriate investment to develop the Proof of Concepts to complete new robots
- Enlisting industrial engineers from within and outside the agri-food sector to assist with Proof of Concept
- Testing new robots on volunteer farms
- Recruiting industrial designers and manufacturers to produce approved R&A technologies