A frequent theme of this blog is the role of new technology in agriculture and more specifically how unmanned vehicles and aerial drones will make it easier for farmers to boost their overall crop yield. The new technologies will be good for everyone. Improved farming methods will enable more food production to keep pace with the world’s growing population.
However, the topic of agricultural technology inevitably leads to one underlying question: What kind of impact will these new technologies have on farm labor?
The Impact of Automation
It’s an understandable concern. Across many industries, automation has eliminated a number of jobs over the years, and it will likely will continue to do so. While unmanned agricultural equipment may improve the overall efficiency of farms, it could mean that manual labor is no longer necessary.
While that’s a fair way of considering the issue, it’s not the only way. After all, there is often a misconception about how easy it is for farmers to find workers. In the United States, for example, some farmers have discovered that many citizens actually aren’t willing to take on that kind of physically demanding work. As a result, they have to hire H-2A workers instead.
H-2A workers are not technically citizens of the United States, nor are they immigrants. They come to the United States for seasonal employment and return to their home countries when they are not working. Generally, they are more willing to endure the arduous nature of farming.
Hiring H-2A Workers Can Be Difficult
The problem is that hiring them can be difficult. Checks are checks put in place to ensure that they do not remain in the country for longer than their allotted time, and the process of hiring them through this system can be time-consuming and expensive. Additionally, some farms do not offer enough seasonal work to qualify for the program. As a result, they are stuck looking for workers who are citizens. Often, they come up short.
Add in the fact that policies relating to non-immigrant workers are constantly shifting in most countries, and it can be difficult to find enough workers in this industry.
More automated machinery could provide a solution to this dilemma. Basic tasks that would have required a human could now essentially be performed by a robot. Rather than giving farmers a reason to reduce their workforce, the increased efficiency would allow them to use their workers more effectively. In recent years, precision agriculture has been a hot topic in the industry. Farmers are continuing to develop new methods of addressing the specific needs of a small section of crops. The approach boosts crop yields while limiting the amount of wasted resources, which may include fertilizer and pesticides.
Machines Could Make Farming Less Labor-Intensive
In order to be effective, precision agriculture techniques often require a person to carefully evaluate the condition of a given crop and address any nutritional deficiencies. With machines tending to the mundane tasks, farm workers can now aid in this process. Doing so will actually make farming significantly less labor-intensive. As a result, more people will be willing to take on farming jobs.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that these new machines will need to be manufactured, maintained, and repaired. Such work will still have to be performed by humans. In fact, the odds are good that the implementation of these tools will be positive for every farm’s workforce.
Farmers Continue to Struggle to Find Workers
By helping farmers to grow more food and increase their revenue, machines will enable them to hire additional workers. Again, farmers are struggling to find workers as it is. With more funds at their disposal, they will be far more likely to expand their operations. Think of a farm like a growing company. When a new tool comes along that makes the company substantially more productive, that company doesn’t shrink in size. Instead, it grows and provides more jobs as a result.
That’s not to mention the fact that increased revenue for farms is better for the general economy of a region, since more people will have money to spend. While it is certainly fair to be concerned about how new agricultural technologies will eliminate the need for manual labor, the farming industry is one example in which the opposite would appear to be true. Consider that farmers are having a difficult time finding humans to do these jobs. Rather than become pessimistic about how machines will affect the agricultural workers, it’s better to be optimistic. When farmers are no longer struggling to maintain a full workforce, they can devote more energy to serving their communities.