Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Farmers have more mouths to feed. Bring in the robots.

By Dalvin Brown
Washington Post

April 27, 2021 — Gonzales, CA

(Photo above: Bear Flag Robotics equips ordinary farm tractors with autonomous software. Credit: Bear Flag Robotics)

Companies are rolling out more machines powered by artificial intelligence to zap weeds, pluck fruit and win over farmers

Robots are shouldering more responsibility at Church Brothers Farms in Gonzalez, Calif.

From sunrise through sundown, rows of lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower are planted, tended to and harvested on the thousand-acre ranch — partially by humans, increasingly by machines.

The products are then packaged and shipped to major grocery store chains and restaurants nationwide. You might have seen their products in the frozen food aisle under the Green Giant brand at Walmart, Target or virtually every other major supermarket.

But what you probably haven’t seen is how much more work autonomous machines and drones are doing on the farm as the minimum wage ticked up a dollar in California this year, heading toward $15 an hour for larger employers across the Golden State, effective 2022.

“In the past, labor was relatively cheap compared to technology. Today the cost of labor has risen. So technology and labor costs are getting much closer,” said Josh Ruiz, vice president of agricultural operations at Church Brothers Farms, which employs 60 full-time workers. He runs the firm’s innovation department, which brings in tech from other companies and toys with building in-house farm contraptions. “While I wish I could pay everybody who works for me $100 an hour, the problem is our consumers are not willing to pay that kind of food price,” he said.

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