PLANT CITY, Fla. — A Plant City farm owner is revolutionizing the way strawberries are harvested, thanks to new advancements.
There was once a time when strawberries were considered a luxury item.
“Through the winter months, January and February not too many retailers would even carry strawberries because they were so costly,” Wish Farms owner Gary Wishnatzki said. "The way the labor costs are going and the way that labor availability is going. If we don’t solve this with automation, I believe that strawberries will become less affordable and less available to consumers."
While consumer demand remains strong, the labor force is weak. Many migrant farm workers in the United States come from Mexico and fewer of them are entering agriculture, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
“Now Mexico there’s more opportunities," he said. Actually, farms in Mexico are becoming short of labor as well."
To fix the labor shortage Wishnatzki co-founded Harvest CROO Robotics with his partner Bob Pitzer and developed a robotic automated strawberry picker.
The robot does the job of six workers at once. It's designed to pick eight acres in 20-hour a day, without bruising the berries and it detects disease.
The machine can pick strawberries during the day or at night.
“The robot spins around the plant and identifies ripe strawberries and segregates the ripe ones from the green ones and not fully ripe and is able to dive down and pick,” Wishnatzki said.
The plan is to start commercial picking in Florida next year and in the next two years expand to strawberry production in California.