The Burro is an autonomous, four-wheeled, all-terrain vehicle that is used to aid farmworkers harvest and maintain table grape vineyards. Photos via World Ag Expo
Written by The Business Journal Staff
At a time when labor is the most uncertain input of any business, investments in automation will make a big splash at this year’s World Ag Expo in Tulare.
The World Ag Expo, making its return Feb. 8-10 after the 2021 show was cancelled, has unveiled the winners of its annual Top-10 New Products Competition. While the manufacturers of these products span from all over the country, a couple of them hail from the Central Valley — and those have the express purpose of introducing automation technology to the farming workflow.
A Burro for grapes
New to the list of World Ag Expo new product winners is Burro, a self-driven, four-wheeled ATV that has been tested on local table grapes — one of the most labor-intensive crops grown in the San Joaquin Valley. The company’s CEO summed up the basic function of the Burro as aiding humans in the field in a September 2021 news release announcing a $10.9 million venture capital investment.
“Many autonomy companies beginning in agriculture have focused first on autonomous tractors, autonomous weeding, and harvesting, where they try to comprehensively automate incredibly hard technical tasks, and often struggle to scale into a large market — we’ve started instead with collaborative people-scale robots that help people by moving heavy things around,” said Charlie Andersen, CEO of Burro. “The beauty of this approach is that we can scale today around a ubiquitous pain point in the most labor-intensive areas of agriculture, while also allowing our platform to capture data and learn about many environments — providing the foundation for us to scale to countless other applications.”
The company planned to use the money to expand to 500-plus robots this year to meet demand from both new and existing customers. As of September, it had 90 robots in table grape fields covering 100-300 miles a day autonomously. It eliminates the need for a farmworker to walk several miles a day with a 250-pound wheelbarrow full of grapes. Instead, they can stand in the shade, pick and pack fruit onto the Burro.
“Burros are already transforming worker productivity with one Burro enabling six-plus people to harvest up to 48 percent more fruit per day for a less than two month ROI,” according to the new release.
While it is scaling in the $3 billion table grape market and looking to expand into berries and nursery crops, it sees opportunities in the $1.2 trillion in US outdoor labor where automation can address pressing challenges.
Burro was formally known as Augean Robotics, a Philadelphia-based robotics company. Founded in 2017, the company boasts the only fully autonomous, plug-and-play, collaborative farming robot on the market. It’s listed with the World Ag Expo as a company with operations in Kingsburg, and its California sales and service team is headed by Chris Thiesen, who previously worked for vertically integrated Brandt Farms in Reedley, according to the Burro website.
Fresno-native and former Fresno High School chemistry teacher Josue Ortega teaches crews how to use the Burro, and Fresno State grad Noe Toribio is a sales and service representative.
The Burro exhibit at the World Ag Expo will be located at space GS6.
Introducing the mini GUSS
Returning to the Top-10 New Products is a sleeker version of the Kingsburg-produced GUSS autonomous sprayer. The original GUSS (Global Unmanned Spray System) debuted at the World Ag Expo in 2017. It can be programmed to drive itself between rows of trees while spreading pesticides and other ag chemicals via a powerful blower to its rear. It uses GPS tracking and mounted lasers to navigate itself.
The original GUSS was 6 feet 4 inches tall and 8 feet wide, while the mini GUSS lends itself to smaller-scale crops at 5 feet 4 inches tall and 6 feet wide. New applications include vineyards, hops, blueberries and high-density orchards.
The mini GUSS will be on display at space RD5 at the World Ag Expo.
Hunting almond mummies
The IT Rover by insightTRAC in Syracuse, Indiana is perhaps the most robotic looking of the new products. The ground robot travels down orchards rows taking action on reducing pests and collecting data that can be used to improve crop performance.
The IT Rover was initially targeted at the almond industry to address the problem of mummies, or nuts that remain on trees after harvest that are susceptible to infestation by the Navel Orangeworm, the primary pest for California almonds.
Mummies are generally removed by shaking the trees with a mechanical harvester or by hand using a pole. The IT Rover travels an orchard spotting mummies with a camera and shooting biodegradable pellets to remove each one.
The IT Rover will be on display at the World Ag Expo space H26.
Other winners of the Top-10 New Products Competition include:
All-Electric Class 8 Refrigerated Truck
Zero-emission refrigeration truck meant to handle the movement of ag goods on every step of the supply chain, from farm to consumers.
Space: SS103, SS105
New Smart Autonomous Robot
The World Ag Expo will feature the reveal of the robot that uses artificial intelligence to autonomously remove weeds from large vegetable plots.
Clip Plugs by Rain Bird
A clip that helps save water using a unique ratchet closing mechanism allowing growers to close emitter outlets when using irrigation dripline.
E70N Electric Tractor
Santa Rosa, California
Solectrac’s E70N is a 100% battery-powered electric tractor capable of up to 70 horsepower equivalent specifically designed for vineyard, orchard, and commercial farming operations.
Space: Demo Space No. 2
TJ Hoof Hub
TJ Hoof Care
TJ Hoof Hub is a billed as an all-inclusive, revolutionary mobile data management solution for the cattle hoof trimming industry, giving trimmers the ability to digitally document all of their work for customers.
Christchurch, New Zealand
The Teatwand Parallel is the first and only “parallel parlor” in-parlor automated teat-spraying system in the world. The system utilizes a gantry system to transport each spray arm down the parlor to accurately spray the cows’ teats before and after milking.
Space: Farm Credit Dairy Center 6220, 6221, 6222
Tule Vision is an iPhone app that uses artificial intelligence to allow users to take and track midday leaf water potential readings in grapevines.
Space: Pavilion B 2017