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UK: Exploring future opportunities for automation in horticulture

A research survey that will establish the current level of use of automation and robotics in horticulture and identify where future investment in technologies could be made to help address concerns about labour availability and costs, has been announced by AHDB Horticulture.

Labour accounts for up to 70% of variable production costs in some areas of horticulture. With the National Living Wage driving up labour costs and the uncertainty of the future availability of migrant workers after Brexit, identifying technologies that can help reduce labour costs and pressures for businesses will become more critical.

Automation in production at Lansen Nursery, Spalding

A wide-ranging survey has been sent to growers from a full range of horticulture crops and selected businesses will be contacted for in-depth studies.

Debbie Wilson, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB, said: “We recognise the significance of labour costs for horticultural businesses and therefore the importance of doing things that help growers reduce them.

“Fundamental to getting these activities right is having the full picture of what the current position is in our industry which is what this survey is designed to do and we hope that growers will be willing to spare some time to respond.”

Steve Tones, horticulture strategy director at AHDB, said: “Addressing the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labour is one of the top three priorities of our strategy, and a key issue for most growers.

“We recently launched a programme to bring lean principles into all sectors of horticulture, which offers immediate improvements in business productivity. The robotics and automation survey will provide us with the information we need to shape our future activity to meet the longer-term needs of the horticulture industry for alternatives to human labour.”

Growers interested in participating in an in-depth telephone survey should send their details to [email protected].

The survey is part of a series of work AHDB is currently running to help improve labour efficiencies in horticulture.
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