Mechanization in Agriculture
As a forewarning: These are the words of a new graduate student to the field of agriculture.
Mechaization of agriculture is inevitable even in the face of the many barriers. Because despite all the biological barriers, as long as we can afford it or see a big enough benefit, we have at our current point in time all the tech that is needed to develop these machines.
Next to combines (for grain harvest), the automated tomato harvesting system is seen as one of the major leaps in agricultural mechnization. The start of mechanized tomato harvesting was in 1965 in California. 1965 is the year of the Vietnam War and Malcolm X assassination. These machines cut out plants, separated the fruit from the vine, identified and separated ripe tomatoes (with a photo-electric scanner), and collected the fruits of the labor without bruising. The tomato mechanization brought vegetable and fruit agriculture to a mindset; mechanization for these crops is possible.
There were a lot of changes in farming policies; small farmers lost to farms that could afford the harvester, and a lot of workers lost their jobs. I’m not sure about the global landscape when it comes to mechanized tomato production. But mechanization of tomato harvesting has been said to make the US cultivation of tomatoes globally competitive. While China produces the most tomatoes of the world, Mexico is the top exporter of tomatoes. But I still face the problem of evaluating the usage of mechanization in different countries due to lack of information specific to this topic.
A much more recent development in mechanization of agriculture, Asparagus, is still being perfected but is an interesting comparison to the tomato, because 1. asparagus are grown individually and 2. their ripeness is determined by their height. During hot weather, asparagus can grow 6 inches in a day; this means that asparagus that were not ready in the morning could be ready for harvest at night. The quick growth of the asparagus makes the harvesting rather time sensitive. The traits that require the development of specialized machinery for asparagus harvesting are the shape of asparagus and non-uniform growth between plants. The harvesting machine uses photoelectric sensors to measure height of the asparagus. This is synonymous with the photoelectric sensor of for the tomato harvesting machine. The asparagus machine has a tong appendage that picks up the asparagus while the base is cut off by an arm. The tong catches the stalk and places it on a conveyor belt. The most important feature of the asparagus harvesting machine is the ability to pinpoint and selectively harvest. Selectively harvesting ensures the highest level of quality in a product and highest economic gain.
But as always, when it comes to agriculture, the barriers and problems are more social and economic than technological. Discussing and addressing those limits are a topic for another time. In conclusion, it’s pretty cool to see how techy agriculture is especially since we as suburban and urban consumers don’t think too often about it.
Next week, I think I’ll talk about how there is no point in me trying to identify with being Japanese or American.