Picking strawberries by machine instead of immigrant worker

Mechanization of produce farming is moving ahead, notably with strawberries, which are easy to crush. Half of hired farmworkers today are unauthorized workers.

The Washington Post reports that the future of agricultural work has arrived here in Florida, promising to ease labor shortages and reduce the cost of food, or so says the team behind Harv, a nickname for the latest model from automation company Harvest CROO Robotics.

Harv is on the leading edge of a national push to automate the way we gather goods that bruise and squish, a challenge that has long flummoxed engineers. Designing a robot with a gentle touch is among the biggest technical obstacles to automating the American farm.

“The labor force keeps shrinking,” said Gary Wishnatzki, a third-generation strawberry farmer. “If we don’t solve this with automation, fresh fruits and veggies won’t be affordable or even available to the average person.”

Who are the workers today? These figures are from the National Agricultural Workers Survey for 2015- 2016:

Sixty-nine percent of hired farmworkers interviewed in FYs 2015-2016 were born in Mexico. 49% are unauthorized. On average, foreign-born farmworkers interviewed in 2015-2016 first came to the United States 18 years before being interviewed. Most respondents had been in the United States at least 10 years (78%),

In 2015-2016, 77 percent of farmworkers said that Spanish was the language in which they are
most comfortable conversing. 30 percent of farmworkers reported that they could not speak English “at all”. 41 percent of workers reported they could not read English “at all”.

The average level of formal education completed by farmworkers was eighth grade. Four percent of workers reported that they had no formal schooling and 37 percent reported that they completed the sixth grade or lower.

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