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Brexit, Covid Driven Labour Shortages Compel UK Farmers to Turn to Robots

With the twin shocks of Brexit and Covid 19 rippling through the UK in 2020, farmers in the country who often rely on seasonal workers to help pick crops at the ideal havesting time found themselves with mass labour shortages. Some of these have started to accelerate their tilt towards robotic picking in order to ensure that their crops do not go to waste. One such company providing these systems is Xihelm which has a robotic harvester called ‘Eagle’, which is powered by a proprietary 3D AI engine which provides growers with a level of automation that was previously unattainable. Farmers see glasshouse automation as a viable means of controlling or mitigating business risks associated with seasonal labour shortages and the effect of Covid-19 on workforce availability and workplace hygiene. AI also brings an added bonus: the early detection of devastating crop diseases such as tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV). Xihelm was founded in 2016 and pivoted to Agritech in 2018. At present, Xihelm’s robots are constantly attended to by workers who monitor them and tackle any problems. The company believes that they should eventually reduce the number of workers needed for harvesting by up to 70%, those remaining would be robotics operators. The Eagle does not pick faster than a human, however it can operate around the clock, stopping only for charging and cleaning.