In American Fruit Grower’s special 125th Anniversary issue back in 2005, our editors and contributors had a little fun predicting the developments you would read about 25, 50, or 100 years in the future. My bold prediction for a story you might see in the year 2130: “Mechanical harvesting of fresh fruit will be a reality in three to five years.”
It was a mantra we’d already been hearing for a while in the early 2000s. Robotics would soon be the resolution to all of our labor issues, making harvest more efficient and affordable, and taking much of the expensive and often problematic issues of managing people out of the equation.
The technology was generally described as being “right around the corner.” The ideas seemed plausible, though most folks were justifiably skeptical about that timeline.
Predicting technology developments is a difficult game. We often simply extrapolate what we already know: cars, telephones, and harvest crews on ladders become flying cars, video telephones, and robots that pick your fruit. The developments we end up getting, however, prove reality can be more exciting than our imaginations allow.
If you told me 30 years ago I’d be carrying a little computer around in my pocket that would allow me to make a phone call, watch TV, map my route in real time to anywhere I wanted to go, and answer literally any question I could imagine with a couple of taps of my thumbs, my brain would have exploded. Heck, I would have had a hard time just comprehending the idea of typing with my thumbs. But now these things are so commonplace we take them for granted.
Developments in technology for you as a fruit grower — as you will continue to learn about through our HortTech Initiative — are propagating quickly. From remote data collection technology that helps you make better decisions in real time to sensors that combine with artificial intelligence to make production decisions for you, the technology is here and available today. And you don’t have to be a multi-million dollar operation to take advantage of some of these developments — even the humble smartphone in your pocket has capabilities that can take your production to the next level.
New technology like biopesticides and other biocontrols are game changers as well. American Fruit Grower and some of our sister publications at Meister Media Worldwide just hosted the third annual Biocontrols Conference & Expo. The products we learned about and the techniques that are being developed and adopted are changing the way you sustainably manage your crop protection programs
We’re living and working in an amazing time. Take a moment to step back and appreciate all the new ideas that are happening all around you. But just for a moment. Then get back to work figuring out how you can incorporate even a few of these new tools into your production, harvesting, and business management. There’s something there for every grower — no matter what size you are or what crop you grow — that can help you produce a quality crop more efficiently and more profitably.
This time that robotic harvester may really just be right around the corner. And a lot of other technology that may be even more helpful is already here.