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Growing Automation in the Ag Industry is a Team Effort

In August, 2nd Sight will celebrate five years of being in business and working in the Ag industry. We’ve learned a lot over the years. The article, “The Road to Orchard Robotics Has Not Been Easy" on GrowingProduce.com, validated many of the struggles we’ve faced along our journey of “Engineering Better Solutions for Ag Industry."

At 2nd Sight, we enjoy listening to growers at meetings and tradeshows to learn about the biggest challenges that they continue to face in the specialty crop and commercial nursery industries. When most farm expenses come down to harvest, many agricultural equipment suppliers and tech companies are doing their best to focus on developing orchard and farm machinery and software that improve efficiency, reducing orchard harvest costs.

I thought I’d go through the highlights of the article and explain how 2nd Sight, like many other agriculture technology providers interviewed, has experienced these roadblocks while trying to further automate farming.

“What took you so long?”

Every stage of the process takes time—initial concept, defining specifications, building prototypes, testing (which often can only happen during a small window of time each year), modifications, manufacturing and then implementation on a small scale and large scale. Developing quality products is not an overnight process. We do our best to meet deadlines because we know Ag is often very time sensitive.

If you build it, they will come…. well, if the price is right.

Kevin, our CEO/President, has never questioned the fact that our team of engineers could build a system that would solve a farmer’s problem. But there’s always a qualification to this claim—but you probably couldn’t afford it. A problem really isn’t solved if nobody can afford the technology. We design and build with ROI in mind because it will impact a grower’s willingness to make a purchase.

But, there’s also a responsibility to create something that will function in all types of terrain and for many farms. There’s not only a responsibility, but a necessity. Standardization decreases costs for us as a manufacturer, savings that can be passed along to the grower. A business based on purely custom hardware and software is a tricky one to sustain.

I enjoyed Brown’s comment in the article, “A guy says, ‘I’ve got a standard bin,’ and I say, ‘there’s no such thing as a standard bin.’” It’s why the FairPick has standard, individually tared, RFID or barcode container tracking, individually tared tracked container, and multiple container selection options. Every time we moved to another farm to test our prototype scale, we learned of another way to run fruit harvest.

Trial and Error

The QuickPick is a great example of a farm labor tracking system born out of a grower's desire to solve a problem, field observation, then several rounds of testing and revisions.
Without observation and field trials, we would never have designed a system simple or fast enough to keep up with these pickers (watch this video if you’ve never seen a California tomato harvest). The bottleneck in the harvest process was at punching. Pickers ended up wasting time by standing in line waiting for their tickets to be punched when they brought up their filled buckets. Even ten seconds of waiting greatly reduced efficiency. Eliminating the bottleneck would increase worker productivity, and eliminating the person punching cards would reduce labor costs. A true win-win!

As noted in this article, farmers and their employees tend to be a little tough on equipment…. Observation also confirmed that we had to make the system rugged and robust in order to withstand six months straight out in the field and in the harsh picking environment, and minimal repairs required in the off-season.

I need to see it to believe it, but I have no time to see it.

In the article, Wafler says, “Another challenge is getting a grower to demo a piece of equipment during harvest. Growers are often hesitant to shake up their day-to-day harvest functions in the thick of things. Or even worse, have a workforce that refuses to use the equipment.” This has been a major challenge for us, as well. We’ve had our systems out for three full seasons, working in crops from peppers, pears, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, apples, and even kiwiberries. However, seeing is believing, and many farmers still want to see the machine working at their farms, during their harvests.

It’s almost an art to pull off the harvest demo—choosing the right day, the right variety, the right crew, the right phase of the moon… Harvest is a stressful time of year, and it is difficult for a supplier to get a grower on-board when the time actually comes to see the machine in action.

How 2nd Sight Customers Successfully Tackle Change

Ready to move your farm forward with automation and new tech? We're ready to get you going in the right direction!