Two Southwestern Ontario vegetable farmers will be trying out a European robot this spring that could help with Ontario’s chronic labour shortage.
Bercab Farms in Kent County and nearby Jennen Bros. received a $119,540 grant from the Canadian Agriculture Partnership for the AgriPlanter. The grant helped cover the cost of buying the machine, as well as the work to modify the standard Ontario seedling trays to fit into the machine.
The European-designed AgriPlanter is a transplanter on wheels. Hauled behind a tractor, it carries seedlings, which the robot plants as it goes. A mechanical arm grabs a tray of seedlings and feeds them onto a belt. The belt feeds them down into the soil, in between two tight disks to keep the plants upright and cover the seedlings in soil. The farms are hoping that not only will the robot cut down on the need for workers, but increase the farms’ efficiency. According to the company that makes them, the machine can: reduce labour needs on a farm by as much as 70 per cent; and speed up planting by about a fifth of an acre every hour, with the plants on average getting better soil contact to boot, giving them a better start.
Farms currently rely on manual labour for the process. Ontario’s labour woes are well-documented. Local workers are often difficult or impossible to find, and many farmers rely on foreign workers, for whom they have to provide housing and flights. Research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council projects that by 2025 Canada will not be able to fill 114,000 farm jobs with domestic workers. Canada brings in around 50,000 foreign workers every year to work on farms.