(Bloomberg) Robotic devices like lettuce thinners and grape-leaf pullers have replaced so many human hands on U.S. farms in recent years that many jobs now held by illegal workers may not exist by the time Donald Trump builds his promised wall.
For many American farmers, the automation push isn’t just about the President-elect’s goal to seal the border with Mexico, the traditional source of cheap migrant labor for the world’s largest agricultural exporter. There just aren’t enough crop pickers around as immigration slows, deportations rise and the prospects of congressional reform look remote.
That’s what prompted Steve Tennnes, a fruit and vegetable grower in Charlotte, Michigan, to buy a $138,000 machine that can collect up to three times as many apples per hour than workers who currently use ladders and buckets, and do so more safely. He will be able to harvest more with fewer workers, and the benefits will expand as he replants his orchard over the next decade to make it easier for the device to operate among the trees.
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