As California’s Labor Shortage Grows, Farmers Race to Replace Workers With Robots

Agricultural worker Alicia Solano, 17, of Oaxaca, Mexico, thins rows of lettuce near Salinas, where a computer-guided machine had done the bulk of the work, leaving her small crew to hoe only what it missed. (Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Driscoll’s is so secretive about its robotic strawberry picker it won’t let photographers within telephoto range of it.

But if you do get a peek, you won’t see anything humanoid or space-aged. AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO — a boxy contraption moving in fits and starts, with its computer-driven sensors, graspers and cutters missing 1 in 3 berries.

Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops.

Now, the $47-billion agriculture industry is trying to bring technological innovation up to warp speed before it runs out of low-wage immigrant workers.

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