Today’s growers are caught between a rock and a hard place — rising labor costs, uncertainty about finding sufficient workers to plant and harvest crops, and increasingly tight profit margins. They’re not strangers to technology — but they’re overwhelmed by the variety and cost of products being introduced.
An Alpha Brown survey cited in Ag Funder News indicated that 27% of more than 3,000 growers are currently considering purchasing a machine to help with harvesting.1 Wintergreen Research predicts the market for agricultural robots will grow to $27.1 billion by 2023.2
According to Kenneth Scott Zuckerberg, Sector Manager for AgriFood Technology and Packaged Food at Wells Fargo Food & Agribusiness Industry Advisors, “farm labor is a major pain point in California, both from the standpoint of availability and affordability. Robotic technologies already exist where machines can sense and selectively spray herbicide to kill weeds, allowing farm workers to instead focus on other more productive task.” In the near future, growers who use robotics to automate everything from planting and weeding to harvesting and packaging will have a competitive advantage over those who still rely on manual labor.
Yet many growers are waiting for technologies to mature and become more affordable before they make major investments.
Robotics startups face challenges, too
Unlike manufacturing applications, agricultural robotics need to operate in varying soils, at varying elevations, in varying light conditions and on varying crops. Robotics developers have to do extensive testing in order to build a viable product. The challenge for many startups is finding growers willing to test the technology — and the testing may require several growing seasons.
In addition, robotics developers must attract investors until they can demonstrate a solution that can scale from 100 acres to hundreds of thousands of acres.
Working to bridge the divide
“We have an interest in accelerating market penetration of agricultural robotics and automation,” says Matt Servatius, managing director and head of Wells Fargo’s Cleantech Banking.
“Our customers rely on technology to grow their operations and profitability so we’re interested in doing what we can to speed those products to market. We’re also deeply committed to clean, sustainable technologies that will help feed the world’s rapidly growing population.”
As the largest agricultural lender in the nation, Wells Fargo’s AgTech team can provide deep insights into the challenges facing every member of the supply chain from growers and suppliers to equipment manufacturers, food processers, retailers and consumers.
Wells Fargo is committed to building and sustaining an AgTech ecosystem where startups, investors and end-users can connect, collaborate and grow.
1. Alpha Brown Source: https://agfundernews.com/harvesting-robotics-market-early-adopters-report.html
2. Wintergreen Research source: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/agricultural-robots-market-report-2017—expected-to-reach-271-billion-by-2023—research-and-markets-300454126.html