Competition looks to match engineers with growers to improve farm labour

Typical solutions could involve implementing special purpose machinery, the integration of robots, autonomous indoor vehicles and vision systems
Typical solutions could involve implementing special purpose machinery, the integration of robots, autonomous indoor vehicles and vision systems

A competition has been launched to match engineers with growers to develop new technology to improve the sector's labour efficiencies.

The winning grower will collaborate with automation engineers from Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), at the University of Warwick.

The two year project will aim to find an applied solution to a problem within the grower's business to improve labour efficiencies.

Novel technology will be developed for the winning grower, and could also be beneficial to the wider horticultural sector.

It comes as some farms report staff shortages of 10-20%, and to have any effect in terms of supporting the industry, around 10,000 staff are needed now to alleviate pressure, according to British Summer Fruits.

But growers are increasingly turning to recent developments in automation to reduce their reliance on a dwindling supply of labour.



A survey revealed that 82% of growers believe emerging technology in robotics and automation have helped their businesses.

Robert Harrison, Professor of Automation Systems at WMG, said: “We believe our expertise in areas such as vision systems, special purpose machinery, integration of robotics and autonomous indoor vehicles will be invaluable in finding new solutions to automate production processes in light of the current labour shortages in horticulture.

“Our cutting-edge technology and custom automation solutions have already been applied to different industries including aerospace, automotive and healthcare. Moving into horticulture will be a great new challenge.”

The project is being jointly funded by AHDB Horticulture and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, with contributions from WMG.

To apply, growers need to complete a short survey explaining the problem in their production process that they would like WMG to fix. The deadline to apply is 29 March 2019.