Friday, November 30, 2012

Vegetables at Tiffany's

Over the past decades, many individuals faced with a lack of work in their own countries have migrated to somewhat more affluent countries to eke out a living.

Many of these folks have moved to countries in Europe and to the United States of America -- either legally or illegally -- to find work in agricultural jobs, performing the sorts of tasks that the residents of those countries would either find too demeaning or too low-paid to take up.

These agricultural jobs usually involving living and working on farms for long hours picking fruit and vegetables for a minimum wage. And although that minimum wage far exceeds what such folks might be able to earn in their own countries, one month's pay is usually barely enough to keep a roof over their head, let alone buy them a nice entrecôte tranchée at the L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

Now if things aren't tough enough for these poor migrant workers, they are made to feel even worse by political groups that insist that the menial jobs that they perform pulling potatoes and picking oranges have taken jobs from the natives of those countries, whose lives themselves have become naturally poorer to due the work opportunities that are no longer available.

The farmers in the US and Europe, of course, see things a bit differently. Without such low-paid workers, their produce would not be competitive with farmers from further afield. Indeed, in many cases, even though their pickers and pluckers are paid minimum wage, the farmers still find it hard to compete with other farmers around the world who employ their workers for even less money.

But it looks as if, in the not too distant future, that all of this is about to change, thanks to the deployment of robotic harvesting machinery that is under development in the US and the European Union.

Just this week, for example, Vision Systems Design reported on two new developments in the field (no pun intended). One of these was the development of a $6m project involving engineers at Purdue University and Vision Robotics who have teamed up to develop an automated vision-based grapevine pruner. The second was a fully automatic vision-based robotic system to harvest both white and violet asparagus that is being funded under a European grant.

These projects, of course, represent just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous other projects of a similar nature are development across the world that will revolutionize farming forever. Of course, it may make some time before such systems are perfected, but there's no doubt in my mind that given enough time and effort that they will be.

The future impact on the migrant workers, however, is less clear. Will they then return to their native countries where automation is less prevalent to seek work, or travel further afield? Sadly, whether they run to the west to Tulip, Texas or to the east to Somaliland, their future employment is all used up.

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