Western Growers Launches Global Harvest Automation Initiative
IRVINE, CA - The importance of technology and innovation in the fresh produce industry is something that continues to increase at a rapid pace. To stay ahead of the curve, Western Growers (WG) has unveiled its new Global Harvest Automation Initiative (GHAI) as it looks to accelerate harvest automation across the industry. As part of this initiative, the association has put in place a goal of automating 50 percent of harvest within a 10-year period.
“For well over a decade, our members have struggled with a dwindling number of available workers. 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,” said Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia. “The Global Harvest Automation Initiative is aimed directly at this challenge, and the alignment of so many industry leaders and partners in this endeavor is a strong indicator of our shared commitment to success.”
This new global initiative is made up of several central projects that are uniquely designed to solve the ag industry’s labor challenges, while also helping harvest automation start-up companies reach commercial status and scale at a more rapid pace, according to a press release.
The projects included in the initiative consist of:
- Technology Stack: A documented set of technical interfaces that will help startups leverage industry-standard components so their robots can get into fields and markets faster
- Harvest Automation Cohort: A cohort of automation startups will be selected based on industry input to receive exclusive access to systems integration to help integrate the tech stack into their product roadmap, strategy for go-to-market support, field trials, and case studies
- Impact Report: A comprehensive analysis on the impact of harvest automation on the specialty crop industry will be provided annually based on grower metrics
- Harvest Automation Traction Roadmap: A list of current harvest automation startups by crop type and in-market progress/traction will be distributed regularly
The technology stack will be built by a team of subject matter experts (SMEs) in ag and robotics, including:
- Precision ag companies (Trimble, Bosch)
- Original equipment manufacturers and platform companies (Ramsay Highlander, Oxbow, and SPUDNIK)
- AgTech engineering companies (Milano Technical Group, All-Phase Agricultura Engineering, Red Rooster Engineering, and NWFM LLC)
- WG members that are among the world’s largest and best farming operators at adopting new technologies (Grimmway Farms, Turlock Fruit Company, Church Brothers Farms, Superfresh Growers, and Illume Agriculture)
The group of SMEs will build a set of documented interfaces that allow startups to connect to tractor manufacturers, sensor manufacturers, navigation equipment providers, and other manufacturing partners.
One of WG’s key partners in the GHAI project has been the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC), as it has provided recommendations for SMEs and harvest startups based on the commission’s 52 years of experience in tree fruit innovation. Additionally, WTFRC has committed $200,000 in funding over the course of three years to support the GHAI initiative.
“The specialty crop industry needs to all work together to solve harvest automation by strategically accelerating the speed of innovation and adoption,” said Dr. Ines Hanrahan, Executive Director for WTFRC. “The platform approach Western Growers is taking is supported by both startups and industry as the best path forward to finally achieve this goal.”
To officially announce the launch of the GHAI, WG held a hybrid in-person and virtual event on February 11 in Tulare, California.
For more information on the initiative, click here.