They’re coming. Agricultural robots (aka agribots) are no longer just a George Jetson future. They are on the move—to the tune of a $17.8B market by 2027 after reaching $6.3B in 2021.
What can they R2D2? Weed control, seeding and planting, aerial data collection, field mapping, fertilizing and irrigation, intercultural operations, harvesting, soil analysis, and environmental monitoring, just to name a few.
What’s the rub? Well, robots are taking over the world field. In California, there is a self-driving tractor, a strawberry harvester, and more. Some companies, like IronOx, are even bringing the field indoors AND using agribots.
So… what about the humans performing those jobs now? Some view the robots as relief from the hard labor people are currently doing.
But most workers fear the benefit lies with the farm owners, tech developers, and investors—and that they are being left in the dust without an opportunity to give input.
Soundbite: “Workers who can complement the new automation, and perform tasks beyond the abilities of machines, often enjoy rising compensation,” said Georgetown University professor Harry Holzer. “However, workers performing similar tasks, for whom the machines can substitute, are left worse off.”
California farm workers have been working on securing more rights and protections. The United Farm Workers union marched to Sacramento in August to demand the governor sign a bill to make unionizing easier.
All might be for naught if robots take their jobs.