Western Growers study shows huge agtech investment
Growers are now spending an average of $500,000 a year on automation in response to the persistent ag labor shortage, according to a 126-page Specialty Crop Automation Report commissioned by Western (WG), based in Irvine, CA. Released April 27, the report reveals a 25 percent increase in average year-over-year agtech investment as the labor shortage persists.
This is the second year the Specialty Crop Automation Report has been released by WG in collaboration with consultants at Roland Berger. The report, which tracks and measures industry progress in harvest automation across the fresh produce industry, is part of WG’s Global Harvest Automation Initiative, which aims to accelerate ag automation by 50 percent in 10 years.
A press release accompanying the 2023 report quotes Walt Duflock, WG’s vice president of innovation: "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. 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."
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Among the report's findings:
Around 70 percent of participating growers indicated that they had invested in automation in 2022, with an average annual spend of $450,000-$500,000 per grower. This shows a considerable increase since last year when average investments in automation were around $350,000 to $400,000 per grower per year.
Most progress was made in the weeding and harvest assist segments; market-ready solutions are able to meet grower economic targets and alleviate key challenges, such as lack of labor availability. Growers reported ROIs for weeding solutions of less than one to two years depending on the type of crop and technology used.
Growers want more trained agtech personnel, with 50 percent indicating that they had internal employees who dedicated the majority of their time to the integration of automation investments. This suggests that the process of elevating and upskilling the agriculture workforce is well underway. The time it takes to build automation solutions is getting shorter and the costs are getting smaller thanks to overall advances in robotics and nonagriculture fields that benefit agtech startups, as well as the increasing talent pool that agtech startups are able to add to their teams.
Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Western Growers' members and their workers provide over half the nation's fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including half of America's fresh organic produce