UK to host 'world first' robotic fruit farm

CHAP member Berry Gardens is part of a research project to develop the country’s first robotic fruit farm.

Thanks to £2.5m funding from Innovate UK, the ‘Robot Highways’ project brings together experts from industry, tech and academia.

The project will aim to address labour shortages in the industry, cut losses through wastage, and increase productivity, all of which will help to increase sustainability.

Alongside Berry Gardens other partners in the scheme are Saga Robotics, the University of Lincoln, the University of Reading, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, BT, and strawberry grower Clock House Farm.

The project will create the biggest-known demonstration of robotics and autonomous technologies, hosted at Clock House Farm in Kent. It will set out to deliver a vision for the future of soft-fruit growing, where robots will assist growers by carrying out essential, energy-intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce pests and diseases, all powered by renewable energy and using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The project estimates it will provide a 40 per cent reduction in labour requiredand will also help the sector achieve it’s net-zero goal through an estimated 20 per cent reduction in fruit waste, 90 per cent reduction in fungicide use, and a 15 per cent increase in farm productivity.

Richard Harnden, director of research at Berry Gardens Growers, said: “We have been partnered with the University of Lincoln and Saga Robotics for the past six years and this project will demonstrate at scale our jointly developed new capabilities in robotics for the UK soft-fruit industry.”

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