Ag-tech: The automated farm

Tara Duggan for The San Francisco Chronicle:  In Salinas Valley, the future of farming is already here.

In the field, self-propelling harvesters lop off the heads of cabbages, then funnel the 8-pound goliaths to workers who trim and sort them. Inside a nearby Taylor Farms packing plant, a three-armed robot pivots and turns to maneuver bagged salads squarely into packing boxes.

Taylor Farms is a prime example of changes to come in the valley. When harvesting 1.5 million to 1.6 million pounds of iceberg lettuce a day, as the Salinas producer of bagged salads and fresh-cut vegetables does, automation starts to make sense.

Although one of the biggest players in Salinas Valley, which produces so many greens and other vegetables that it has been dubbed America’s Salad Bowl, Taylor Farms is not alone in its move toward automation. Two major factors have driven technology in the region. One is food safety, a major priority ever since the deadly 2006 e. coli outbreak that was traced back to locally grown spinach. Robotic arms are less likely to transmit pathogens than humans are, decreasing food safety risk. The bigger and more recent push for ag tech, however, has come from rising wages coupled with a labor shortage.  Full Article:

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