California farmers replace workers with robots

So as the existing pool of laborers grows older and more of them retire, not enough new immigrant workers are arriving to replace them.
By Mae Owen | Jul 25, 2017
California farms' labor pool is shrinking, and farmers are turning to robots to ease the shortfalls. Robotic fruit-pickers, crop-spraying drones, and iPhone-enabled apps and sensors are gaining circulation as more and more human laborers age out and retire.
"California agriculture just isn't going to look the same," Ed Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist, told the LA Times. "You're going to be hard-pressed to find crops grown as labor-intensively as they are now."
California's farm sector has a half-million labor jobs, and it has long relied on immigrant laborers to fill many of them. But decades of government crackdowns on undocumented workers have taken a toll on the influx of labor, especially after 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
So as the existing pool of laborers grows older and more of them retire, not enough new immigrant workers are arriving to replace them. Nor are native-born Americans stepping up to take the vacant jobs, farmers report, even though farms have raised wages for farm laborers 13% from 2010 to 2015higher than the average for labor across the state's economy.
Consequently, many farmers hope to deploy better technology in order to do more work with fewer humansor else risk losing entire crops. The berry-grower Driscoll's, for example, is shifting away from traditional berry cultivation in garden plots toward growing berries in table-top troughs, which make the berries easier for both machines and humans to pick. Other farms are growing fewer labor-intensive crops like grapes and opting for almonds, which require less human care and can be harvested by machines that shake them from their trees.

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