Robots Could Ease Labor Shortages On U.S. Farms

SALINAS, Calif. (July 14, 2013)--A lettuce thinner, a pruner for wine grapes and a strawberry harvester are among examples of a new generation of machines that target the last frontier of agricultural mechanization.

Farmers have resisted mechanization for fruits and vegetables destined for the fresh market rather than processing because they're sensitive to bruising.

But researchers are now designing robots for these crops by integrating advanced sensors, robotic hardware and GPS technologies.

Although they cost millions of dollars, farmers say, the robots could provide relief from recent labor shortages, reduce costs, increase quality and yield a more consistent product.

Worker advocates, however, say mechanization would lead to the loss of jobs, an increase in the use of pesticides, and would make the food supply less safe.

Most of the robots won't be commercially available for at least 10 years.

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