Here's a first for me, maybe for a lot of you as well. By way of colleague Laura Tourte, we have an example of Chobani Yogurt being marketed as a having a taste of a specific strawberry variety in it - in this case the UC variety Monterey. Really intriguing to see this and something to think about.
Photo courtesy Laura Tourte, UCCE.
When growers are considering a new crop to plant, and penciling out their expenses and income, cost estimates from the University of California may help. A new cost and return study for commercially producing raspberries released by UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension includes an expanded section on labor.
Sample costs to establish, produce and harvest raspberries for fresh market in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties are presented in “Sample Costs to Produce and Harvest Fresh Market Raspberries in the Central Coast Region – 2017.”
“The study focuses on the many complexities and costs of primocane raspberry production over a three-year period, including crop establishment, fertility practices, overhead tunnel management, harvest and rising labor costs,” said Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and co-author of the study.
The analysis is based upon a hypothetical well-managed farming operation using practices common to the region. The costs, materials, and practices shown in this study will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.
“This raspberry cost and return study is the result of significant effort on the part of UC Cooperative Extension, the Agricultural Issues Center and several grower and industry collaborators, who shared their expertise and contributed mightily to the end product,” said Laura Tourte, UC Cooperative Extension farm management advisor and co-author of the study.
This study assumes a farm size of 45 contiguous acres of rented land. Raspberries are planted on 42 acres. The crop is hand-harvested and packed into 4.5-pound trays. There is a fall harvest during production year 1, a spring and fall harvest during production year 2, and a spring harvest during production year 3. Each harvest is three months long.
The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material prices and yields. Tables show the phase-in schedules for California's minimum wage and overtime laws through the year 2022. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.
Free copies of “Sample Costs to Produce and Harvest Fresh Market Raspberries in the Central Coast Region – 2017” can be downloaded from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available at the website.
The cost and returns studies program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both of which are part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Ocado just got picked up by the supermarket chain Kroger in a bid to enhance the grocer's online business so it's been in the news. In particular the operation of its warehouse has been getting some attention.
People in agriculture shouldn't think they are the only ones straining how to integrate automation into their operations. Egroceries is a pretty tricky deal, even Amazon is wrestling with it and the idea of "store picking" (where an employee goes out into the physical store to fulfill the orders) is waaay too expensive for a low margin business like food retail and is not it. Hence the build out you see here.
If you are interested in automating agriculture, you should watch this and think about it. What strikes me about the whole set up is how it plays to the strengths of the machines rather than those of people.
Have a look.
Very important news for organic berry growers, actually all organic crop growers.
As most of you know, nitrogen is pretty limiting in berry production, and those of you who follow this blog are also aware of the discussions of including conventional sources of fertilizer into organic production because of the issues of low nutrient concentration in organically approved fertilizers.
Perhaps we don't need to worry so much about this anymore. Looks like to some extent this problem has been solved by the discovery and development by Dr. Brian Ward out of Clemson University of a bacteria produced organic source of ammonium. The article says Dr. Ward is hoping to scale up to commercial by 2021.
It's a good article by the way, this wasn't something that was achieved easily but Dr. Ward's persistence in figuring it out eventually opened the door.
As we continue on our thought study on what might be a successful approach to machine harvest of berries:
Great little note from The Economist on the limits of AI in the physical world. The brief article describes a test in Singapore using robots (actually robotic arms of the sort one sees in car factories) to put together a flat pack chair from IKEA. It took a while, and could only be accomplished with precise instructions like "pick up dowel" and "insert dowel into top-left hole". It just underlines that the physical dexterity we take for granted and execute from moment to moment unconsciously is computationally light years away from a machine that can play checkers or Go.
I am finding that this is far from being an untrammeled area of thought and study, and back in the 1980's Hans Moravec, Robert Brooks and Marvin Minsky came up with what ultimately came to be known as Moravec's paradox. It is the statement that higher level reasoning and pattern recognition of the sort that we currently are able to assign to robots doesn't take nearly the computational power than do lower level sensorimotor skills like moving around a cluttered space and picking up stuff.
Let's hear from Moravec himself what he means:
"Encoded in the large, highly evolved sensory and motor portions of the human brain is a billion years of experience about the nature of the world and how to survive in it. The deliberate process we call reasoning is, I believe, the thinnest veneer of human thought, effective only because it is supported by this much older and much more powerful, though usually unconscious, sensorimotor knowledge. We are all prodigious olympians in perceptual and motor areas, so good that we make the difficult look easy. Abstract thought, though, is a new trick, perhaps less than 100 thousand years old. We have not yet mastered it. It is not all that intrinsically difficult; it just seems so when we do it."
A bit of a sidebar, but the idea that the human reason we hold so dear as setting us apart from the rest of the Animal Kingdom is a "new trick" that we have "not yet mastered" is fascinating.
Fast conclusion here is that it's going to probably going to be a while before anyone builds a machine capable to being able to manipulate something like a soft fruit. Best to emphasize the strength of the machine, and not work to endow it with abilities which are so very difficult for it, but so very easy for us.