Robotic asparagus harvester aimed at addressing industry challenges

The Government is backing a $5 million project to develop a commercial-scale autonomous robotic asparagus harvester, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today.

The Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) is contributing $2.6 million to the project. Project partner Robotics Plus Limited (RPL) will build on a prototype asparagus harvesting robot developed by Waikato University researchers, and the New Zealand Asparagus Council will develop a strong marketing proposition for exporting the asparagus.

Damien O’Connor said the harvester will help address the ongoing labour shortages in the asparagus industry and support New Zealand asparagus growers to tap into high value export markets.

“Asparagus production is highly dependent upon seasonal labour to harvest, pack and process the asparagus – and labour for picking and packing accounts for about 50 percent of the costs,” he said.

“However, attracting and retaining labour to harvest New Zealand asparagus is an ongoing struggle for the industry.

“Introducing robotics into the industry will provide a much-needed production boost, saving time and money, while ensuring the produce is of the highest quality.”

Damien O’Connor said that New Zealand asparagus growers mostly supply the domestic market, but this project aims to enable a step change toward exporting.

“Only being able to sell asparagus in New Zealand limits our grower’s revenue potential, and having one single domestic market exposes them to risk. This automated solution will finally give New Zealand growers the opportunity to compete on the export market.

“Because green asparagus grows above ground it is well suited to automation. A harvesting robot would be able to operate at any time of the day and utilise sensory data to determine the best harvesting strategies based on environmental conditions and growth patterns.”

SFF Futures is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Through the fund the Government has to date co-invested more than $150 million into 157 projects worth almost $299 million in total. It’s a key part of the Government’s Fit for a Better World: Accelerating Our Economic Potential Roadmap.

“SFF Futures promotes problem solving and innovation in our food and fibre sectors in order to make a positive and lasting difference,” Damien O’Cien onnor said.

“It’s a programme to supercharge what our sectors have always done so well, and that’s innovate.

“We’re excited at the prospects this new project will bring for our asparagus industry by helping to solve some age-old challenges, tap into new technology, and ensure a long-term growth path.”  

Read more about Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures

Source:  Minister of Agriculture

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog