Naio Technologies’ Florian Boyrie (left) and Geraldine Hirschy demonstrated the Orio on Tuesday at a preview event for FIRA USA. Photo by Edward Smith.
Written by Edward Smith
World Farm Robotics Event World FIRA will host its first US event in Fresno in October, welcoming tech companies and growers to showcase the latest in robotics focused on specialty crops.
The three-day event will take place October 18-20 in Fresno, with each day focusing on a different theme.
The first day will focus on research and development, connecting engineers, scientists and students to discuss what companies are doing to provide the service needed to maintain robot fleets deployed around the world. Panels will be held on new technologies, workforce development, as well as technology and business challenges.
On day two, attendees will see the new technologies available and discuss how they apply to their business. Panels and breakout sessions will take place on topics ranging from discussions on crop-specific robotics to mechanization versus automation, as well as field safety and legislation.
The third day will include field demonstrations of robots currently on the market. The machines will demonstrate their ability to weed, harvest, thin, plant and breed in fields across Fresno State.
The French nonprofit GOFAR – World Organization for Agricultural Robotics – announced the event during a seminar Tuesday at the Fresno State Center for Irrigation Technology. Speakers were; Gabe Youtsey, director of innovation for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; Walt Duflock, vice president of innovation for Western Growers; Gwendoline Legrand, co-director of GOFAR; and Dennis Nef, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology with Fresno State and Ashley Swearengin of the Central Valley Community Foundation.
Agricultural robotics companies Naio Technologies, Verdant Robotics and Blue White Robotics also held demonstrations of their robots.
Since 2016, World FIRA has held its flagship event in Toulouse, France. But when organizers discussed holding a conference in North America, holding it in the Central Valley was clear, said Gwendoline Legrand, co-director of GOFAR – the World Organization for Agricultural Robotics – which organizes World FIRA. .
They reached out to contacts with Western Growers, Fresno State, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Merced, all of which are co-sponsoring the event.
“Agricultural robotics is here right now and is really starting to address these challenges by saving water, reducing chemicals and solving labor issues,” said Gabe Youtsey, Chief Innovation Officer. for Agriculture and Natural Resources from the University of California.
FIRA USA’s goal is to connect growers with developers, engineers, and suppliers to solve the various robotics challenges in the specialty crop market.
Labor is a bigger challenge than even water or food safety, said Walt Duflock, vice president of innovation at Western Growers.
Labor availability and labor cost are the two things that hit every farm every day,” Duflock said.
“And the only thing harder than farming in California some days is being an ag startup, an ag tech startup that builds robots for them,” Duflock said.
The specialty crops grown in the Central Valley and around the world are so diverse that adapting them to each crop and each grower requires bringing people together.
Western Growers will also unveil its Global Harvest Automation Initiative at the event. One of the goals is to automate 50% of specialty crops over the next 10 years.
The problems facing producers here are not just local, but global, said Maialen Cazanave, co-director of GOFAR. Producers discussed similar issues with labor and productivity at the 2020 FIRA Global Conference.
“It’s common everywhere, and I was very surprised when I spoke with Indian growers, because they say it’s the same in cotton fields and tea fields in India. I was like ‘really?’ Cazanave said. “The difference with the market is the different type of production, the different size of the field and the way it is operated.”
“The main issues are global,” Cazanave said.
Read the full story of the challenges facing robotics development and the strategies adopted to overcome them in the April 15 edition of The Business Journal.