Some Australian farmers are turning to robotics, rather than leaving food to rot or trying to find people to pick. McNab Farms in Admona, Shepparton, Victoria has been producing apples, pears and stone fruits for over 120 years. Fifth generation farmer and chair of Fruit Growers Victoria, Mitchell McNab’s interest in robotics peaked after he was selected to be part of an international farming scholarship.
“Sixty per cent of the cost of production is invested in labor to produce fruit,” he said. “Australia has a high labor cost. To produce more efficiently and export, we’re competing on a world market that has lower labor cost. I felt robotics was the best opportunity to create a level playing field internationally.”
“COVID impacted us greatly. We use Pacific Islanders and backpackers to pick fruit. Due to travel restrictions, we couldn’t get people, leaving us to rely on the Australian workforce which is unreliable.”
The robot harvester is trained to pick apples off the tree – based on size, color and blemishes – and places them into carts. “It’s still in the early stages, probably a couple of years to get to the point of commercialization. In time, it will be an option to solve labor issues.”