US company makes strides in automating salad growing

California machinery supplier Ramsay Highlander has launched an automated field lettuce thinner, and is developing an automated picker.

The tractor-mounted thinner uses vision guidance to identify surplus seedlings, which it then elliminates with a high dose of fertiliser.

The technique allows a whole row to be thinned in a matter of minutes, and requires just a single operative rather than the 20 needed to do thee job manually.

The robotic picker under development also uses vision-guidance to determine which heads are ready for picking.

But with a starting price of $250,000 (£165,000) for the thinner, the technology is likely to remain the province of large growers.

California prodcues 80 per cent of the USA's leafy salads, but a tight labour market and more onerous employment laws have given a boost to automation in the state's horticulture sector. 


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