“Work smarter, not harder” was an often-said phrase at the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Tech Knowledge Symposium. The annual event is in its fourth year and aims to establish relationships between entrepreneurs and members from all aspects of the food chain.
Labor challenges in agriculture are only getting worse with less available workers and increasing costs. PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Bob Whitaker headlined the event and talked about the history of labor in agriculture. “Agriculture has always been dependent on labor. As populations have come in and filled those jobs, their social and economic situations improve and they moved off into other sectors,” Whitaker said. “There has always been another wave of immigration or another source of people looking for those jobs.”
So who are the next wave of workers? Whitaker said it isn’t clear and we are at a point with technology that the answer might be innovation. “That’s why we are looking so aggressively now at different options within technology, not only in things like automation and robotics but also internally to see if we can improve our efficiencies,” he said.
Some people look at agriculture as being archaic, but innovation is nothing new to the industry. “The fact of the matter is we have been innovating all along,” Whitaker said. “(Innovation) use to focus on new products and getting those high-quality products to various locations around the country almost overnight.” Past innovations have focused on efficiencies, but Whitaker said that focus is now shifting to automation and artificial intelligence. “We need to be able to work more efficiently, but we also probably need to not depend on those kinds of labor pools we have in the past,” he said.
Listen to Whitaker’s full interview.