Labor shortage pushes winegrowers towards automation

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A shortage of farm workers is forcing wine growers in the United States and Europe to turn to robots for their fall harvest, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Why is this important: Travel restrictions linked to the pandemic have reduced the availability of migrant workers, exacerbating an existing labor shortage in viticulture.

  • While crops like soybeans and corn are regularly machine harvested, wine growers have been slower to make the switch for fear of damaging the grapes.
  • In some wine-growing regions of France, such as Champagne, mechanical harvests are prohibited in favor of traditional manual harvests.

Yes, but: New research at UC Davis shows that not only can wineries safely replace manual workers with machinery, but they can also produce tastier wine.

  • “The new system involves different trellises so that the vine is higher off the ground, so it has better flavor, it has better color, which is what the winemakers want,” said a researcher at CBS Sacramento.

What is happening: French manufacturer Pellenc told the Journal that demand for automated grape harvesting machines, which has increased by 5-10% per year, has increased by around 20% this year.

  • Machines can be expensive – around $ 100,000 or more – but growers can recoup the cost over multiple seasons.

The bottom line: Labor shortages everywhere, including in vineyards, are pushing producers towards automation.


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