Robots might ease UK migrant worker shortage

Britain is troubled by a lack of labourers to pick up its ripe fruit in 2020. The Coronavirus and Brexit have caused an uproar among the United Kingdom’s fruit and vegetable farmers. The annual picking season approaches in May and they all have a growing problem -not enough seasonal migrants to pick fruit and other crops.

Soft fruits like strawberries, blackcurrants and raspberries, are a staple for many UK consumers. The production of these soft fruits dominates over 90% of the cropping area with produce being consumed in the domestic market and shipped overseas. Coronavirus and Brexit have left this industry uncertainty over the availability of EU migrant workers. Fruit growers across the county side have struggled to secure help to pick this year’s harvest, less than a third of migrant agricultural workers are expected to arrive this year to the farms. Coronavirus lockdown measures have restricted international movement of labour leaving the future of the picking industry in trouble.

The country needs about 80,000 agricultural workers annually to pick and pack the soft fruit harvest. COVID-19 restriction is stated to cause a shortfall of 70% of migrant workers this season and the uncertainty continues to grow for the future. Robotic technology has stepped in to solve this threatening seasonal worker shortage.

As a proposed solution, Agri-EPI Centre together with the National Farmers Union, University of Lincoln, and others, with a backing of more than a hundred fresh food producers have formed a consortium to address the ongoing labour crisis. The consortium aims to facilitate the use of robotics and automation (R&A) for picking soft fruit and vegetables. Though the initial trains are on, the consortium aims to manufacture robotic technology and roll it out next year confirmed by the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre, one of the coordinators of the project.

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