Ro­bot will har­vest ‘white gold’

Irish Examiner - Farming - - TECHNOLOGY FOCUS - Stephen Cado­gan

A smart ro­bot that makes man­ual har­vest­ing of as­para­gus ob­so­lete is one of the win­ners of the Ac­cen­ture In­no­va­tion Awards 2017.

Larger grow­ers of the crop called “white gold” feared they would have to move their busi­nesses to low-wage coun­tries, be­cause of dif­fi­culty in find­ing thou­sands of sea­sonal work­ers for man­u­ally har­vest­ing it.

In the Nether­lands alone, the crop is worth about €80 mil­lion per year, and a Dutch high-tech start-up com­pany called Cerescon has come to the res­cue by work­ing in close co-op­er­a­tion with Bra­bant, Lim­burg and Ger­man as­para­gus grow­ers to de­vel­op­ing the world’s first au­to­matic se­lec­tive as­para­gus har­vester. It re­places 60 to 75 man­ual har­vesters, at half the cost, thus pay­ing for it­self in just over three sea­sons (it costs be­tween €500,000 and €600,000).

Less dam­age and dis­coloura­tion, and higher yield, are ex­pected, when the first ma­chines are used this year. One mod­ule de­tects the as­para­gus root, a ro­bot cuts the crop, and an­other mod­ule re­stores the seedbed around the peren­nial root, which can crop for up to 15 years. Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity and Re­search is mea­sur­ing the ma­chine’s per­for­mance in a three-year trial.

The as­para­gus crop is es­ti­mated to be worth about €900m per year in Europe.

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