It’s our Industry’s Make-It-Work Moment [Opinion]

Harvest CROO robotic strawberry harvester prototype construction
Harvest CROO techs Alex Figueroa (left) and Kendon Ricketts work on the latest strawberry harvester prototype.
Photo courtesy of Harvest CROO

One of my all-time favorite movies is Apollo 13. It recounts the drama that ensued when an oxygen tank exploded two days into a mission to the moon, leaving three astronauts and NASA to figure out how to get them back to Earth alive on a crippled ship.

The crew faced crisis after crisis. One of the more mundane was the need to scrub the air of CO2 in their lunar capsule lifeboat. It was designed to take two men to the moon’s surface, not support the life of three men for several days.

Enter the nerds. A man walks in with a load of everything that is on the lunar lander and the command module, dumps it on a table. Then he holds up a square filter and a round filter, and challenges the team to make the square peg work in a round hole with only the materials available.

It’s the ultimate make-it-work moment and — what’s better — it really happened.

During the past couple of months, I’ve been listening to industry players discuss the issues vegetable growers are grappling with, and what I should be investigating on their behalf.

The industry is facing some difficult challenges, from labor, to an increase in regulations, to public ignorance on how crops are grown, to what I think is the biggest issue of all: how to sustain a business model that allows for lean years and for reinvestment long into the future.

These conversations aren’t designed so we can all indulge in a robust session of hand wringing. It’s so we here at American Vegetable Grower® magazine can act like the NASA nerds and help you figure out how to make things work for the industry.

HortTech offers info growers need. There will be many, many issues we will be tackling as we look for the tools you need to overcome these challenges. But it turns out we won’t be working alone.

Silicon Valley has taken an interest in our industry. It’s doing what we on our own would have a hard time justifying: pouring millions of dollars into horticultural research without a guarantee of return.

There are dozens and dozens of companies out there developing ways to collect data from the field, group it all together on local cloud-based platforms, organize it so it can be used, then apply it to automated systems and robots.

And now specialty crop growers’ needs for higher quality crops, not just high yields, and the much larger variety of crops, are being addressed.

American Vegetable Grower will regularly cover these advances. Look for the logo you see here, which we’ll attach to all our coverage.

Our industry has so much more to work with than those NASA engineers, who had to resort to the plastic covering off a notebook and duct tape to save the lives of their astronauts. You are going to do so much more than make it work. With the tools available, you will continue to build your business and our industry, offering the highest quality food for a hungry world.

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