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Survey, Ag Labor Savers, Innovation

Posted by | August 15, 2007

Did You Know?

A few months ago, we posted a link to our Washington State Impacts Web site: The site was created five years ago to inform lawmakers about the research, extension and teaching at WSU that benefit the lives of their constituents. Lots of other people have found impact reports to be useful as well.

Help us improve the site by taking a brief survey at Won’t you take a moment to respond today? Thank you.

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

Ag Labor Savers

Labor is by far the largest cost associated with producing a crop of tree fruit. Depending on the technologies being employed and production system, it takes 130 to 210 human hours annually to grow an acre of apples or pears. Cherries are even more labor intensive, ranging from 300 to 400 hours per acre. Put another way, 35 to 50 percent of the cost of producing an apple or pear is labor. For cherries, it’s about 70 percent.

In the not too distant future, the apple you lovingly place in your child’s lunchbox may be picked by a complicated robotic hand at the end of a robotic arm. Robotics is just one of the ways WSU Extension educators are investigating to keep growers competitive in domestic and international markets. Improved genetics, genomics, plant materials, advanced pest management tools, more efficient orchard systems and working platforms are a part of the equation as well.

“It will come to fruition in the next several years,” said extension educator Karen Lewis. Lewis has been working with Washington state tree fruit growers for the past 20 years. “We will have trained people operating equipment with robotic components.”

Another labor-saving device in development is a semi-autonomous, self-steering, creeping platform. The platform transports workers down tree rows and positions them to thin blossoms and green fruit, prune and train limbs, and place pheromones. The tool increases efficiency because workers no longer have to carry, climb and reset ladders. It appears that platforms also provide workers with safer workplace.

While the orchard of tomorrow is expected to employ fewer people, jobs that remain will be better. “We will reduce the physical risk and drudgery and increase the intellectual contribution of those who are employed,” Lewis said.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission is funding Lewis’ field research. Industry partners include Vinetech Manufacturing, Prosser and Blueline Manufacturing, Moxee. The commission is supporting the development of robotic software and hardware in the private sector. The good news is that some of this technology is already available and needs only to be adapted to our conditions and specifications.

In the not too distant future, the apple you lovingly place in your child’s lunchbox may be picked by a robot. Photo: USDA.

Grants Spur Innovation

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns awarded over $1.3 million in 26 matching grants to 21 states supporting agricultural market research and demonstration projects. These grants, provided under the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program, explore new and innovative approaches to marketing U.S. food and agricultural products and help improve the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.

“These 26 projects reflect the new realities of today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace,” said Johanns. “They are focused on developing innovative, more efficient and market-oriented ways to benefit our agricultural sector and support our nation’s growing economy in the 21st century.”

A $55,000 grant was awarded to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Washington Red Raspberry Commission and Washington State University, for health-based research in support of a program to expand use of red raspberries in the production of new and existing processed products.

Two other grants were awarded to Washington state commodity groups. Find out more at WSU Agriculture:

Healthy competition: new grants spur innovation in product development and marketing. Photo: Wikimedia.