Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Horticultural sector ‘on cusp of technological revolution’

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Fresh produce growers are being urged to come together and harness the benefits that technology can bring the sector.

Technology, including mechanical planting and harvesting, can help solve farm labour shortages, growers were told at last month’s SmartHort 2019 conference. But rapid developments will only happen if the whole industry joins forces,

More than 230 delegates attended the AHDB event, held at Stratford-upon-Avon on 6-7 March.

Speakers outlined a range of exciting new technology – from robotic harvesters and automation systems to novel crop protection techniques.

Simon Pearson, professor of agri-food technology research at Lincoln University, warned that the sector needs a clear vision to drive investment in large-scale projects. He added: “We need big meaningful projects or ‘moonshot’ approaches.

“We need the industry to come together and tell us what the big challenges are. Then we need to aggregate and pool all our resources together, in a few targeted areas, where we can really move the dial to open up new technologies.”

Growers were urged to speak with engineering and robotics specialists to addressed the challenges they face with technology. As this technology is becoming more accessible, seeking solutions should not be left to the bigger players in the industry, they were told.

AHDB chief executive Jane King said: “We’re certainly on the cusp of significant change. And it’s going to require collaboration across industry. We need to be much more adaptable, imaginative and operate with more clarity and openness.”

The two-day event saw the launched the SmartHort Automation Challenge. The project aims to match automation systems experts WMG, at Warwick University, with a UK business to develop an applied solution to a real problem in horticultural production.

Fumiya Iiada, reader in robotics at Cambridge University, said: “Agri-food robotic revolution is happening right now.

“The rise of the robots is happening because they are getting cheaper, easier and faster. This is exactly what happened with computers 30 years ago. They were very expensive and only for big businesses but eventually reached smaller businesses and then consumers.”

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