The Canadian organisation Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada AAFC is launching a challenge to enhance automation in the production and harvesting operations of CEA facilities.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is an indoor technology-based production system where crops are grown under a modified and highly conditioned environment. The greenhouse sector and its derivatives such as vertical farming and hydroculture are the most common forms of CEA used in horticultural production. The Canadian greenhouse industry is by far the largest and fastest growing segment of indoor farming. CEA production is labour intensive, requiring workers for a range of critical production tasks including propagation, planting, movement and management of plants, cleaning, harvesting, pest management, pruning, sorting and packaging.
The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) projects that as the global demand for Canada’s agricultural products increases, Canada’s production output levels will also increase, requiring adjustments to workforce productivity. The agricultural sector in Canada already faces chronic labour shortages and has difficulty attracting and retaining workers. More specifically, the greenhouse industry has the largest labour gaps, with positions reportedly the toughest to fill, accounting for 59% of the industry workforce and 90% of the current labour gap. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the industry’s vulnerabilities to labour shocks, which had an impact on the supply chain.
The financial impact of the labour shortages in this industry include lost sales due to planting and harvesting delays and losses, and delayed expansion plans.
In addition to labour shortages, barriers to greater sector automation have been associated with high costs and low profit margins for existing technology. Lowering the cost or improving the productivity of any automation solution would improve the Return on Investment (ROI) and enable the adoption and dissemination of new or improved CEA technology.
This challenge is seeking labour-saving automation and robotic technologies to reduce time spent on labour intensive tasks and reduce costs for CEA facilities. These labour intensive tasks include production (planting, trimming and pruning) and harvesting tasks.
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