Will We Pay Farm Robots by the Hour? [Opinion]

I’ve attended a fair number of grower seminars around the country on the potential new technology headed for the farm, and I’ve noticed something fascinating. Many of the growers are eager to learn, almost on the edge of their seats. But nearly as many sit as far back as possible, and were they turtles, would surely sink back into their shells.


I assumed these growers found the technology intimidating, that they were uncomfortable with the science and, therefore, were withdrawing. But in talking to them, I have found that even if they didn’t fully understand the technology, that wasn’t what bothered them. It was the practical application.

First of all, naturally, was how in the world to pay for such expensive machines. But there were other questions. A frequent one: What do I do when it breaks down? The innovators behind this mechanical/robotic technology say not to worry, but try telling a grower that. Of course they’re going to worry about a piece of equipment no one on the farm knows how to fix.

But what if you didn’t have to treat robots like robots? What if you could treat them, or at least pay them, like people? Of course they wouldn’t be paid piece rate, but you get the idea.

For example, there’s a company in Nashville, TN, called Hirebotics. They supply robots to factories that perform extremely repetitive industrial work. For them to work out in the orchard or vineyard would obviously be a great deal more complicated; witness how many years it’s taking to develop mechanical harvesters.

Precision Ag Specialty Crops logoBut we will see them, as the people increasingly become unavailable to do the work, and the same principle could be made to apply: Like people, robots could be paid by the hour.

The factories contracting with Hirebotics pay them $15 an hour to start, and require a minimum of 80 hours a week. Good thing, as the company notes, robots don’t get paid overtime. The company also hastens to note that robots don’t get sick, don’t take breaks, etc. There’s no upfront investment required, and should there be a breakdown, you don’t have to pay for repairs, not even routine maintenance.

In other words, growers shouldn’t worry too much about the logistics of implementing mechanization. A lot of really smart engineers are working conscientiously to make the technology practical for as many growers as possible, so be sure to keep up with the latest innovations. They will surely be coming to your farm in one fashion or another.

A great way to do that is by attending Growing Innovations, a conference being held in Las Vegas Nov. 7-8. A joint venture of our parent company, Meister Media Worldwide, and NXT Events Media Group, Growing Innovations is the only conference of its kind. It’s for all types of specialty crop growers, offering a single space for growers to focus on getting real solutions.

Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from top-notch experts in the field. But you can also learn first-hand from other growers, progressive, cutting-edge growers who can share not only ideas but practical application methods. Because as you well know, the greatest technology in the world isn’t going to be of much use if it can’t be employed.