Labor shortage | The robot picker of broccoli to the rescue of farmers

Labor shortage | The robot picker of broccoli to the rescue of farmers
Labor shortage | The robot picker of broccoli to the rescue of farmers

(Montreal) The development by a Quebec company of a robot capable of picking broccoli is an example of artificial intelligence projects supported by the Legault government to become “a leader in productivity” and reduce the negative impacts of the labor shortage. of work.



Posted on October 19, 2021 at 2:38 p.m.

Stephane Rolland
The Canadian Press

Lapalme Mechanical Design is preparing to market its SAMI (for intelligent multifunctional agricultural system) machine next summer. The device consists of a farm tractor that pushes a machine where robotic arms are installed on both sides. These robots are picking vegetables.

Robot-broco

Tests carried out with a machine with four robotic arms in fields of broccoli have given promising results, according to Éric Lapalme, president of the company in Varennes in Montérégie.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY LAPALME MECHANICAL DESIGN.

The SAMI consists of a farm tractor that pushes a machine where robotic arms are installed on both sides.

Next summer, he plans to market four machines that would contain around 20 robotic arms, perhaps more if farmers express the need. Mr. Lapalme believes that a robotic arm replaces a worker in the fields.

Even if farmers are successful in meeting their needs with temporary foreign labor, the current system limits their opportunity for growth, the entrepreneur continues.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY LAPALME MECHANICAL DESIGN

Éric Lapalme, CEO of Lapalme Mechanical design.

“There are several producers who tell me that they would like to expand their vegetable production and decrease their field crop production, but they cannot do it because they cannot find more labor. So that greatly limits the development of vegetable farms in Quebec. ”

Financial support

Quebec gave financial support of $ 1.3 million to the company. Investissement Québec, for its part, granted it a loan in the amount of $ 100,000.

Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economy and Innovation, believes that the development of SAMI is promising. “It’s a small project, but it excites me, because that’s exactly what we want to do as a government,” said the minister in an interview.

He pointed out that there were 194,000 positions to be filled in Quebec at the end of the second quarter, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. However, “a good part” of these positions are at the minimum wage, adds the Minister.

Automation projects like SAMI’s would increase productivity in the agricultural sector, Fitzgibbon hopes. “It’s a way to be a leader. On the one hand, we increase productivity. On the other hand, the jobs that are required to pick the broccoli may be going away. It might sound hard to say that, but I think it’s important, because we need to retrain the workforce in better paid sectors. ”

The massive replacement of workers in the fields is not for tomorrow, however. Lapalme Mechanical Design will limit marketing next summer to four machines in order to limit financial and technological risks at the start of the production phase.

However, Mr. Lapalme wants to speed up marketing after this first phase. He points out that his machine has been patented in Canada, the United States and Europe. “The idea is to quickly take these three markets. You have to go quickly, otherwise the market will see what you do and be inspired by it and other ideas could emerge from that. ”

The company has not yet determined whether it will sell its machines or whether it will adopt a rental model where the price varies depending on the size of the crop. If sold, the cost of the SAMI would vary depending on the number of robotic arms installed, explains Lapalme. It takes about $ 400,000 for the heart of the machine and $ 100,000 per robotic arm.

At the moment, the SAMI only harvests broccoli, but the device could be used for other crops such as asparagus, celery or cabbage. It could also be used for taking inventory of crops in the fields or for weeding.

 
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