How could technology and innovation impact the future of farm and ag labor?  That was the focus on a workshop hosted earlier this month by Washington State University at the Tri-Cities campus.  The workshop, “Labor and Automation Effects on Social Sustainability and Resilience in U.S. Agriculture”, was a split between presentations in a classroom setting and a field day.  The workshop features speakers from all around the world discussing technical innovations in agriculture, the economic impacts of new tech, and the social implications of innovation.


“There's been a shortage of labor and it's only gotten worse,” WSU Economic Sciences Professor Jill McCluskey explained. “At the same time, we have a lot of researchers who are working on new ways to automate this.  A lot of the agricultural labor work can be dangerous and can be menial and just hard.  For the long term, for at least some of it, it's more sustainable to have some automation introduced into the system.”


During the workshop, WSU Professor Manoj Karkee shared his innovations in specialty crop harvesting technologies, -while professor Marcos Marcondes presented innovations in dairy technologies.  Meat and dairy producers, he noted, have already looked into what technology routes could fill their labor shortages.  McCluskey noted that all perspectives are vital in this ongoing discussion.


"This will be a successful event if we can have different perspectives represented and discussed and we can better understand the issues in both scientific and engineering breakthroughs that are going on with the researchers at universities and the Tree Fruit Research Commission," McCluskey said.  "Also to understand the worker side and some of the important challenges and issues that are going on there, to understand from the industry side, from the producer side, to understand what their challenges are and what they need.” 


Addition speakers included: UC Berkeley Agriculture and Resource Economics Professor David Zilberman, Penn State University Rural Sociology Professor Leland Glenna, and Montana State University Agriculture and Resource Economics Professor Diane Charlton.  Other attendees included WSU Economist Karina Gallardo, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission Executive Director Ines Hanrahan, Equity and Social Justice Consultant Tomás Madrigal, and the Founder and CEO of Steve Mantle.


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