Farm Labor Crunch Leads U.S. Produce Growers to Turn to Robots

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After grappling with worker shortages on U.S. farms for more than a decade, one group says they have a solution: automation.

Western Growers Association, a trade organization representing fruit and vegetable farmers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, is leading an effort to automate half of each year’s produce harvest within the next 10 years.

“If we don’t come together as an industry to quickly and efficiently deliver automation solutions for farmers in this country, it is likely that the shift of fresh produce operations to other countries will dramatically increase,” Dave Puglia, the group’s president, said in a statement on Thursday.

The move comes as farmers are about to start a fresh growing season that’s once again under threat by the pandemic. Last year’s travel restrictions and lockdowns, along with a fear among workers over contracting the virus, led to labor shortages on some farms. Many seasonal agriculture jobs are filled by migrant workers.

Those labor woes are on top of years of Washington gridlock, which has blocked passage of new immigration laws. Trade unions say reform is desperately needed to relieve the problem of dwindling farm help.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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