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Bloomberg Interview - "Strawberry picking robots give hope to B.C. farmers amid worker shortage"

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

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Watch the host of Commodities on BNN Bloomberg Andrew Bell and Neupeak's CEO discuss how automation will help save the B.C. strawberry industry.

Strawberry farming, specifically the picking of the harvest, continues to be a manually demanding yet underfunded profession. In order to maintain a sustainable farm, many Canadian strawberry farmers resort to employing a seasonally available workers from foreign countries for harvesting. However, in recent years, a rising minimum wage and a reduced migrant workforce has led to reduced profit margins and added uncertainty to the future of the strawberry farming market.

Autonomous Robotic fruit harvesting can have many benefits in the agricultural sector of B.C. Namely, it has the potential to reduce labour costs. Currently, minimum wage in B.C is increasing annually, increasing operation costs for farmers. With on-demand robotic harvesting services, it can help farmers increase profits. Furthermore, as the technology evolves these costs could continue to decrease.

Currently the majority of the strawberry harvesting workforce in B.C. is made up of migrant labour which is in decline. With increasing wages and less back-breaking alternatives available, strawberry farmers are having a difficult time recruiting workers resulting in the growing demand for farm labour leading them to more expensive routes for recruitment i.e. flying in workers seasonally from foreign countries, where the availability of such workers is also decreasing. Thus making it difficult for strawberry farmers to make a profit and making their futures ambiguous. This is where our autonomous robotics harvesters come in.

Neupeak's autonomous robotic harvesters are designed to be scalable, combine that with the service model we have set out, means Neupeak can meet these demands while increasing farmer profits. Neupeak's robots are designed to be easily built in case there is an increase in demand, we can quickly build more(scale up) to meet it. Along with the service model where we are paid a fixed rate for every pound we pick, meaning farmers only pay our robots for what they pick and not the time they work.

The ability to increase the numbers in our fleet quickly indicates that we can meet the demand of all different sizes of farms and if demand decreases for a particular farm the robots can be diverted elsewhere. This can allow farmers to be versatile and open up options for fluctuations in harvest while still maintaining their profits. Combining both these effects means profits for farmers especially when thrown in the fact that Neupeak's robots are able to do night picking. As night picked strawberries have shown to have a longer shelf life which means farmers can ship their harvested product further which would increase profits for the farmer.

Robotic harvesters will provide consistency when it comes to the quality of fruit picked, availability of the service on demand, consistency in the time to harvest a strawberry, and a decrease in paperwork for farmers will all contribute to an improvement in a farmer's business and lifestyle while giving farmers a peace of mind while giving us delicious strawberries. This will allow farmers to focus on other things that will benefit their farms and family.

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