Conference in Fresno focused on the future of farming

Dale Yurong Image
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
EMBED <>More Videos

What happens at the conference in downtown Fresno could have a big impact on the direction the ag industry takes when it comes to automation.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The future workforce on Valley farms will include more robots to plant, pick and weed.

The FIRA conference at the Fresno Convention Center features creations like The Amiga by Farm-ng, which offers different applications from towing to seeding.

"It's really interesting when we bring this to a farmer and they say, 'Oh, that's so practical and they just start thinking of all these ideas like this compost spreader," says CEO Ethan Rublee. "A farmer saw our base platform and said, 'I want to spread compost with a machine.'"

What happens downtown could have a big impact on the direction the ag industry takes when it comes to automation.

Companies, scientists and visitors from 26 countries are here.

Weeding robots have drawn attention from farmers dealing with labor shortages.

"We're really glad to see the weeding progress because we feel like that's the first place the dam's going to break open," says Western Growers VP of Innovation Walt Duflock. "That's the first place the market's going to say okay, we can really do this at scale."

Harvest automation has come a long way. Two companies have developed robots, which are picking apples in Washington

"There are two different ways," says Jeff Cleveringa with the Starr Ranch Group. "One is using a small suction to grab the apple, then spin it and take it back, and then the other is a finger system, so they actually grab the apple and take it back."

The sight of robots on the farm might worry workers who fear for their job, but Hernan Hernandez of the California Farmworker Foundation says that shouldn't be the case.

"All of a sudden, you go from 100 individuals that are going to be able to harvest this season to now 10 that will harvest with a machine," he said. "But the way we look at it is as well, when we talk to farmworkers and engage them, and we look at data, there is also opportunity. We know a lot of the farmworkers want opportunities to further their skill sets."

The demonstrations will include 16 robots in all.