Robots Begin to Replace Farmers in the United States

Picking and tending to crops are now in robotic hands

Robots are taking over in the fields. Picking and tending to crops — jobs that low-wage human laborers normally fill — are now being entrusted to machines that use computers and vision sensors to perform the job just as well as humans, according to NPR.

Thinning a field of lettuce is a task that requires 20 people with farm hoes. But a tractor called the lettuce thinner, developed by Frank Maconachy, president and CEO of Ramsay Highlander, can do it just as well. Because of immigration policies and enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border, California growers can’t find enough laborers to work their fields, so they’re employing these machines for a cheaper cost.

The tractor uses a vision system to locate seedlings, then sends their location to the tractor’s computer, which determines which seedlings to keep and which to get rid of. With a shot of fertilizer, it destroys the unwanted seedlings. In just a few minutes, a whole row of lettuce is thinned, and it only takes one robot.

Maconachy's company’s latest design is a robotic picker that finds a head of lettuce and picks it. This robot relies on a similar vision system as that of the lettuce thinner.


The cost of the lettuce thinner starts at $250,000, and some farm machines cost as much as $600,000. Smaller farms that can't afford robots could fall behind if they can’t keep up with production.