The lack of availability and the rising cost of labor in the agriculture industry has driven producers to invest more heavily in technology, according to a Specialty Crop Automation Report

Average grower spending on automation was recorded at $350,000 to $400,000 in 2021 and jumped to $450,000 to $500,000 in 2022. An estimated 70% of participating growers invested in automation technology. 

“The hope is that technologies can bring solutions and provide relief for the industry,” the report stated.

The survey found that labor is a large concern for growers with expenses typically accounting for more than 50% of total production expenses. That percentage is expected to grow by 10 to 30% over the next three to five years. 

“This year’s report takes a deep dive into some new areas: The European market, Controlled Environment Agriculture and the innovator’s side of automation,” said Walt Duflock, VP of Innovation at Western Growers. “We found progress from a fundraising and traction perspective in key areas like weeding, spraying and harvest assist – and less progress in other key areas, notably harvest.”

Progress of innovations can be observed through funding received, the number of paying customers and the number of robots in service. 

About 15% of startups had completed round B funding or above in 2022, representing an 8% increase over the same time last year. More than 30% of start-ups reached 20 paying customers. 

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An additional 35% of startups have more than 10 robots in service – a 15% jump from the year before – modeling consistent automation growth across the entrepreneurial stages. 

Over half of the survey participants indicated that they have internal employees dedicating a majority of their time to the integration of automation investments, marking the demand for added agriculture technology professionals. 

The report – published for the second year in 2022 by Western Growers and Roland Berger – tracks and measures industry progress in harvest automation across the fresh produce industry. It is part of the Western Growers Global Harvest Automation Initiative, which aims to accelerate ag automation by 50% in 10 years.

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