Earlier this week, The Associated Press ran a big story about the Lettuce Bot, a high-tech piece of equipment that promises (as its name implies) to do the time- and labor-intensive work of weeding and thinning out baby lettuces so that remaining plants can grow. In fact, the AP reports a Lettuce Bot “can ‘thin’ a field of lettuce in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand.”
This is not the first time farming has moved toward automation (California sauce tomatoes, for instance, are almost entirely harvested by machines). But for labor-intensive lettuce farms, it could be a big step. And, for the owners of industrial-scale farms under a great deal of pressure to produce heaps and heaps of cheap, plentiful food, technological solutions such as the Lettuce Bot sound understandably promising. You see, labor is currently one of the biggest costs of growing vegetables, and a diminishing number of people want to work for the usually abysmal rates most big farms can afford to pay.
Also interesting is the fact that Blue River Technology, the company behind the Bot, sees it as a long-term solution to reducing the use of some pesticides and the genetically engineered seeds bred to withstand their application. In an interview with Modern Farmer earlier this year, Jorge Heraud, one of the Lettuce Bot’s creators, said:
What we’re talking about is bringing technology that is a little bit different: electronics, computers, cameras, and sophisticated algorithms. We want to find different applications for that. Weeding is done now by a combination of genetically modified crops and herbicides that kill everything except the plants that have been genetically modified. So we wanted to bring an alternative to that and have a solution that is scalable, affordable and doesn’t rely on genetically modified crops.
It’s a worthwhile premise, but will robots in the fields reall