The corona pandemic has once again demonstrated how dependent agriculture is on seasonal workers, but Norwegian growers may get help from robots next year.
For Norwegian growers, the development of autonomous robots cannot move quickly enough, especially now that many of them are struggling to find enough workers. The robots that can plant and pick are already under development, but they are not yet able to do that as well as humans can, let alone better. Nevertheless, Pål Johan From, a professor of robotics at NMBU, expects many different picking robots to be on the market from next year.
Strawberry grower Simen Myhrene and From have been working together for years on the Thorvald agricultural robot. The robot shines UV light on the strawberries at night, which kills fungi. Thanks to the use of Thorvald, Myhrene now no longer needs to use pesticides and chemicals: “It's magical. The plants are doing very well and we have control over harmful insects and fungi. ”
Large demand for robots due to corona
Due to the corona crisis, From has noticed an increase in the demand for the robots: “It has risen so explosively that it is impossible to meet all demand. There are two reasons for this: firstly the labour shortage and secondly because the robots can also kill the virus. Systems that can sterilise products and kill the virus using UV light are in high demand. A new market opens for us where our robots can sterilise packaging at night, for example. ”
Norwegian raw materials can compete better
Myhrene thinks that thanks to the robots, Norwegian fruits and vegetables can compete with imports: “If it is profitable to use robots in low-cost countries, it is certainly profitable here in Norway, as we have to pay staff twice the amount here. Thanks to lower costs due to the robots, we can then compete against the growing imports. ”
Frida Gunnestad Johansen, communications director of Norsk Landbrukssamvirke, the umbrella organisation for Norwegian agricultural cooperatives: “Few sectors are as focused on the future as Norwegian agriculture. Norwegian growers are always looking for solutions that can make cultivation more sustainable and profitable. The Thorvald robot is a good example of this. ”