Robots v workers: Why humans still rule our farms
WHERE some may see robots replacing labour in the future, Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers chairman Allan Mahoney doesn't see that coming to fruition on a mass scale any time soon.
Mr Mahoney's comments came after Australia's richest man, Anthony Pratt, shared his solution to the backpacker labour shortage in the agricultural industry in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Pratt said the answer was simple, "on-farm robotics (to) solve the backpacker labour shortage”.
Mr Pratt said investing in robots and scrapping the backpacker tax were essential steps if "we're to ensure that no fruit is left behind because of a lack of labour to pick it”, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
His comments came after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week suggested the unemployed fill the labour shortages, however, yesterday The Australian reported Mr Morrison seemingly took a slight step backwards from those comments and said his government would "work towards establishing an agriculture visa”.
Mr Morrison's initial position was criticised by Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt who said farmers just needed whoever was prepared to turn up and work, which often proved to be backpackers.
"Farmers in my electorate need a reliable workforce which will turn up every day they are required and do the work that is required of them,” he said.
"They can't afford to have crops rot on the ground because people don't want to turn up for work.”
But robotic technology isn't a quick fix either according to Mr Mahoney, who said "unfortunately we are way behind in robotic labour to the point where Australia is still mostly at experimental stages”.
"There are exciting times ahead but again unfortunately there is no short-term solution with robotic help,” he said.
"There is work being done by CSIRO on units that can spray and advances in harvest equipment but not to a commercial capacity just yet.
"There is a place for them and again the industry will be watching this space very closely.
"Realistically we are years off fixing this with artificial intelligence technology.”
Mr Mahoney said the Wide Bay Burnett region's transient labour force fluctuated from time to time, but was fortunate to mostly have better numbers then other areas that consistently faced shortages.
He said this was mainly due to the region's close proximity to Fraser Island and other great tourist destinations.