Fruit-Picking Robot Addresses Human Labor Shortage
The DBR harvesting system is currently being tested in Pasco, Washington
It's sunrise at Hayden Farms in Pasco. Chatter of birds nearby. But on Wednesday morning, wheels, tubes and exhaust cram the orchard.
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It's called the DBR. It stands for Dietrich, Brown and Rasch, the last names of the engineers of the machine. It's robo-farmer of sorts. A newly-engineered machine to assist fruit pickers. Grower Denny Hayden is testing the DBR out.
Grower Denny Hayden tells KEPR, "We're not picking every fruit. The fruit with the proper maturity, proper background, and fruit color."
Denny has struggled to keep enough workers through the harvest season.
"We've been right on the edge all year long and it's been like that for a couple years, and we don't anticipate it going better."
Recent reports found there could be 40% fewer Ag workers this year over last. A machine like this could make all the difference. The DBR could cut labor costs in half for farmers. Saving thousands of dollars.
Denny explains, "With apples, 30-50% of our costs are labor costs in cherries, it's even higher."
Labor costs can get passed on to the consumer. Instead of a human, the machine takes the apples, sucks them back through a tube and carefully places each one in a bucket. The platforms move up and down, forward and back to reach for fruit. The DBR carries five pickers as it moves down the row. It doesn't even need a driver.
"We're not out there climbing ladders, carrying ladders, not carrying around a big bucket of fruit," Denny says.
But this machine wouldn't replace workers all together.
He continues, "We're just making the human more efficient."
That efficiency could open the door for more people who could never do this kind of work before.
"Because it's a less physical action."
That could put more Americans to work.
Denny nods, "Maybe we're going to be able to use more of a domestic force."
Denny hopes in a few years, a machine line the D-B-R could help cut a third of his payroll.
"We're trying to figure it all out still. This is the beginning stages," He says.
Changing the face of one of the oldest industries we know. There are only two DBR's in the nation right now. One is being tried out throughout Washington orchards and the other in Michigan.