Plagued by rising costs for labor and worker shortages, the packinghouse bought the $28,500 harvester this year.
The irony: Bean harvesters have been in use for about 30 years elsewhere in the United States. Simple geography — the proximity to a huge, low-cost labor force in Mexico — virtually had kept them out of California fields until now.
Severe spot-labor shortages, crackdowns on illegal immigration and planned increases in the minimum wage have opened California's doors to existing machinery, fostered research and development to meet niche agricultural needs and taken talk of orchard robots out of the realm of science fiction. ...
This year's raisin harvest is nearly 70% complete, and for the first time in years, labor needs did not become an issue, said Glen Goto, who heads the Raisin Bargaining Association. He cited two reasons: At least 40% of the crop is mechanically harvested, and grape yields may be down as much as 30%. ...
Countries where low-cost labor is in short supply have been in the machine-farming vanguard. Australians and Italians, for example, pioneered using machines to prune grapevines, said Maxwell Norton, a University of California farm adviser for Merced County.
Japan only has a few hundred thousand immigrants in all of the country. It also has over half of the world's robots.
What's the future of the American economy? Is it in perpetually chasing ever-cheaper serf labor to the point that our workforce becomes as third-world as our export profile? Or is it in good old Yankee ingenuity, where our quality of life is among the highest in the world because we put machines to work on the menial tasks so that we can spend more time developing better ways to do things and focus on turning reverie into reality?