By Abolaji Adebayo with Agency report
As the U.S. policy on illegal immigration got tougher, farmers, especially dairy owners have been urged to buy robots to milk their cows due to imminent reduction in the farm workers.
It was reported that President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration through stepped-up arrests and border enforcement has shaken the U.S. agricultural sector, where as many as 7 in 10 farm workers were undocumented, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In addition, Republican lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation that would require all employers to check social security numbers against federal databases to ensure their workers are in the country legally, something that is now voluntary in all but a handful of states.
The get-tough approach “has created a great deal of anxiety,” said the Chief Executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, Tom Vilsack, who was U.S. Agriculture Secretary for eight years under President Barack Obama.
He said the shift came as the industry was already struggling to cope with a shrinking, aging workforce, adding that the policy was ratcheting up pressure on the sector to embrace new technology.
According to him, farmers and food companies were increasingly moving to automate dairy operations, chicken processing, crop production and harvesting, adding that delicate crops such as strawberries and peaches were being considered for mechanization.
“You wouldd be a fool to not have a plan that moves you that way,” said Duff Bevill, who owned a vineyard management company in Sonoma County, California.
Pilgrim’s Pride Corp, (PPC.O) the second largest U.S. chicken producer, this year cited a tightening migrant labor market as key to its decision to invest in robots and X-ray technology for its slaughterhouses.
The goal, according to media report, was to swap human hands for machines that could debone the front half of chickens and perform other chores.
“We are investing heavily in automating our processes, taking labor out and making jobs easier,” Pilgrim’s CEO, William Lovette said in an earnings call.
He said the company also decided to increase wages.
The largest North American producer of fresh garlic, Christopher Ranch will spend about $1 million this year for a new Spanish-made robot in its packing plant that inserts garlic heads into sleeves, according to Ken Christopher, vice president of the family-owned business.
A 2014 report by WinterGreen Research forecast significant growth in the use of robotics in “every aspect of farming, milking, food production” and other agricultural enterprises.
The report put the market for agricultural robots at $817 million in 2013 and projected that it would reach $16.3 billion by 2020.
A third-generation strawberry farmer in Florida, Gary Wishnatzki, said scarce labor convinced him to raise $5 million so far to build a robotic strawberry picker that he hopes someday will reduce his industry’s need for field hands.
The CEO of Taylor Farms, a Salinas, California producer of salads and chopped vegetables for stores and restaurants, Bruce Taylor, also disclosed that his company has automated 20 percent of its packing plant.
He said the company has also teamed with an equipment maker to build a mechanized romaine harvester that is currently in use, and it is exploring automation for iceberg lettuce, broccoli and other field crops, Taylor said.
The number of people caught trying to enter the United States illegally from Mexico dropped almost 60 percent between February and May compared the same period last year, according to government figures.
Between late January and early September, the number of individuals arrested in the interior of the country by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rose almost 43 percent over the same period in 2016.