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“This type of technology has been a long time coming”

“This type of technology has been a long time coming”
“This type of technology has been a long time coming”

Hugh Lowe Farms grows around 5,000 tonnes of strawberries and 1,000 tonnes of raspberries and blackberries in Kent, England. Hugh Lowe Farms is not only one of the UK’s largest soft fruit growers, but also a pioneer in the trial of commercial robotic harvesting.

“The availability and cost of labor has always been a problem for soft fruit growers, which is why we have been working with Dogtooth Technologies since we started about eight years ago,” said Marion Regan, general manager of Hugh Lowe Farms. “We recently started using Dogtooth robots on a commercial basis.”

The main purpose of the Dogtooth robot is to harvest strawberries, although trials are currently being carried out with other fruits.

“Dogtooth has focused on harvesting, but can also look at features like harvest predictions. Currently, they can harvest 16 hours a day, working through the night. The heat of the day is not the optimal time to pick fruit, and nighttime is not optimal for human pickers.

“Finding enough people to pick the fruit is a big challenge, and the quality and speed of the people can vary. The robot, on the other hand, is programmed to pick the fruit according to the specifications and put it in the right boxes according to the orders. We have seen that Dogtooth can be competitive in picking costs, while its speed is comparable to the lower limit of human productivity.

“We value our human pickers very much. Some of them are very skilled and there will always be a need for them. However, we can deploy a robot fleet with fewer operators and use our workforce elsewhere.”

Big investment?
Robots can be a big investment for companies, so Dogtooth offers picking as a service. The fee is charged per kilo and is intended to be comparable to the cost of manual harvesting.

“But the ultimate business model is to sell robots to farmers so they can control their own crops. Farmers then pay a software subscription to receive updates. Dogtooth robots were designed for value from the start. The goal was always for the robot to offer good value for money.”

There is no need to plant special varieties that are suitable for the robot, as long as the varieties produce a good harvest. This is a big difference from machine harvesting, where special varieties are needed to enable machine harvesting. With Dogtooth, what is good for human harvesting is also good for the robots.

“The commercial trials at Hugh Lowe Farms have been running for two years on a one-hectare plot. We have our regular harvest teams and the robotic harvest team, all treated equally in terms of orders and quality control systems. We also have an Australian berry operation, Burlington Berries, trialling Dogtooth robots in Tasmania and this allows us to collect data all year round.

“This type of technology has been a long time coming and there is still a lot to learn. I can imagine it being a key part of the solution to the shortage and rising cost of labour. We are also looking at sustainable battery technologies and the use of solar power generated on farms. Only through best practices and openness to innovation can we get the rising costs under control.”

For more informations:
Marion Regan
Hugh Lowe Farms
Phone: +44(0)1622 812229
(email protected)
www.hughlowefarms.com

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