A research survey that will establish the current level of use of automation and robotics in horticulture and identify where future investment in technologies could be made to help address concerns about labour availability and costs, is being conducted by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).
Identifying technologies that can help reduce labour costs and pressures for businesses will become more critical, according to AHDB, particularly at a time when the National Living Wage is driving up costs and there is so much uncertainty surrounding the future availability of migrant workers after Brexit.
A wide-ranging survey has been sent to growers from a full scope of horticulture crops and selected businesses will be contacted for in-depth studies.
“We recognise the significance of labour costs for horticultural businesses and therefore the importance of doing things that help growers reduce them,” says Debbie Wilson, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB.
“Fundamental to getting these activities right is having the full picture of what the current position is in our industry which is what this survey is designed to do and we hope that growers will be willing to spare some time to respond.”
Steve Tones, horticulture strategy director at AHDB, said: “Addressing the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labour is one of the top three priorities of our strategy, and a key issue for most growers.
“We recently launched a programme to bring lean principles into all sectors of horticulture, which offers immediate improvements in business productivity. The robotics and automation survey will provide us with the information we need to shape our future activity to meet the longer-term needs of the horticulture industry for alternatives to human labour.”
The survey is part of a series of work AHDB is currently running to help improve labour efficiencies in horticulture.