Robots are commonplace in row crops, but the fresh market tree fruit industry still relies on large, seasonal workforces.
“Every apple you see at the grocery store was picked by a human hand,” said Joe Davidson, assistant professor of robotics at Oregon State University’s College of Engineering.
The industry, however, is pushing to automate in the face of rising labor costs and a shrinking agricultural workforce.
The percentage of Americans working in “farm occupations” peaked in 1916 at 32% of the population, according to USDA. In 2020, it was just 1.4%. Many immigrant farmworkers are also aging out of the workforce, and their children are less interested in farm work.