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The Lettuce Robot Has Arrived

Touch the Soil News # 132

The most labor intensive crop is lettuce. One of the most labor intensive tasks in lettuce farming is thinning the lettuce plants early in the season. Once the lettuce takes stand, thinning gives the remaining lettuce plants room to grow and mature to market-size lettuce heads.

Advanced Lettuce-thinning Robot

Entrepreneur Jorge Heraud, from Salinas Valley in California founded Blue River Technology. The company invented what they call the LettuceBot. The LettuceBot can thin lettuce plants automatically and without labor. Consider that at the present, it takes about 50 farm laborers two days to thin a 15-acre lettuce field. The LettuceBot, using cutting edge robots, computer vision and software algorithms can thin the same 15-acre field in about 3 hours.

Farmworkers thinning lettuce

It is no secret that intensive agriculture as is seen in California struggles to attract enough farm labor. On average estimates are that insufficient harvest labor results in about a 10 percent crop loss. However, what happens to the other 90 percent of workers? In a world of increasing robotics, everyone must still work, even if it means everyone working part time, but all sharing in the production of the robot armies on the horizon.

Machines similar the LettuceBot can also perform precision application of fertilizers and pesticides, significantly reducing chemical use in agriculture that ends up in wastewater. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, about half the nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops is wasted.

Heraud estimates that his new robotic farm equipment can allow farmers to use between five and 10 times less chemicals. While the machines are expensive, saving water from pollution, labor savings and environmental benefits go a long way to offsetting the cost. At present, Blue River Technology does not sell the LettuceBot, but provides custom farming services by bringing the robot to the field and operating it for a fee.

Following is a short Bloomberg News video on the LettuceBot:

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