Robots won't replace workers in labour-intensive ag sector: CSIRO

Robots won't replace workers in labour-intensive ag sector: CSIRO

MAN POWER: Workers won't be replaced by robots anytime soon in the ag sector.

MAN POWER: Workers won't be replaced by robots anytime soon in the ag sector.


"Machines can't replace people well. Ask Toyota."


ROBOTS have been discussed as one way to fill the upcoming labour shortage facing the ag sector, however the head of the nation's leading science agency doesn't see them replacing manpower anytime soon.

Labour-intensive ag industries, such as horticulture and shearing, are staring down the barrel of a massive workforce shortage, with the nation's border restrictions causing a rapid decline in the number of seasonal workers available.

CSIRO chief executive, Larry Marshall, was asked if technology could help solve the upcoming labour shortage, and responded "yes, but not in the way you mean it".

"If you mean tech replacing people's jobs, no, I don't think we should do that," Dr Marshall said

"Machines can't replace people well. Ask Toyota, who tried to build completely automated factories with no lights and they realised they had to bring in people to work with machines, so the machines could learn to build."


In recent years, the horticulture industry has been investing heavily in new technologies from machines that can detect weeds and fertilising crops to a handheld "ripeness meter".

Last year, a robotic harvester was unveiled at an apple orchard in New Zealand.

Despite the progress, Dr Marshall said although technology could assist people in labour intensive ag-industries, it wouldn't replace them.

"Machines can't create knowledge or have ideas," he said.

"There are some things humans are better at, but there are things they can do together to make it better."

Dr Marshall also recommended walking back the internal border restrictions hindering the movement of seasonal workers, and instead focus on targeting virus hot spots.

"The virus doesn't recognise state lines or state borders," Dr Marshall said.

"Our focus should be not shutting ourselves down as much as finding where the virus is, and focusing our effort to fight in those areas."

While robots may not be the silver bullet to the workforce shortage, there are other solutions being put forward such as expanding overseas working visas and enticing Australia's with a relocation payment.

A federal government inquiry into the Working Holiday Maker program was urged to act swiftly to avoid a "bureaucratically man-made disaster" that could decimate the horticulture industry.

In a normal year, there are about 200,000 working holiday makers in the country at any one time, but that number has dropped to 80,000 and continues to fall due to the pandemic.

Sign up here to Good Fruit and Vegetables weekly newsletter for all the latest horticulture news each Thursday...


From the front page

Sponsored by