Robot will harvest ‘white gold’
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.