The End of Migrant Workers

The writing is on the wall. In a fairly short time as such things go, migrant workers (and for that matter, domestic farm workers) will become an anachronism. Writing algorithms for farm machinery is much simpler than writing them for automobiles. There are far fewer variables involved, and the "obstacle course" is much easier to navigate.

Robots Take the Wheel as Autonomous Farm Machines Hit Fields

Robots are taking over farms faster than anyone saw coming.

The first fully autonomous farm equipment is becoming commercially available, which means machines will be able to completely take over a multitude of tasks. Tractors will drive with no farmer in the cab, and specialized equipment will be able to spray, plant, plow and weed cropland. And it’s all happening well before many analysts had predicted thanks to small startups in Canada and Australia.

... [Regarding weed control] “The savings on chemicals is huge, but there’s also savings for the environment from using less chemicals and you’re also getting a better result in the end,” said Bradford, who’s run the farm for about 10 years. Surrounding rivers run out to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s eastern cost, making the farm particularly sensitive over its use of chemicals, he said.

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Cheaper. Better for the environment. The only remaining question is why the U.S. is trailing behind Canada and Australia in developing and selling this equipment as well as hiring American workers to build the advanced machinery. It's almost like we don't want to be the world's technology leader.

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Hawkfish's picture

In technology development, we would be doubling down on energy research (PV panels, batteries, thorium reactors, fusion, power to fuel, carbon air capture). Instead all we want to do is squeeze the last few drops out of our existing infrastructure and head for our private islands. Well those who can afford them...

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We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.
- Greta Thunberg

edg's picture

@Hawkfish

Builders have become extractors. Financial manipulation is the new infrastructure.

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the "gig economy" as renting a servant by the hour - having a servant, but with increased utility and no responsibility. Huey Long made that argument to former slaveholders. They didn't buy it; they were still bitter over no longer being allowed to own people. It took 80 years for the idea to catch on.

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A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

lotlizard's picture

@doh1304

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Bollox Ref's picture

cutting edge tech in the US these days.

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Gëzuar!!
from a reasonably stable genius.

edg's picture

@Bollox Ref

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it becomes more profitable to do so. Right now there is cheap labor here. A third or less the price as in Australia, half that of Canada, two places that restrict illegal immigration. Even with unlimited cheap immigration we are already moving towards replacing humans. Ever notice how Roma tomatoes are so much cheaper? They developed a variety that can be picked by a machine.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

That's the only question that matters.

They're saying it's more efficient and I'll buy that. But is the complete cost of the coding and manufacturing and transportation of the machines less than it costs to get some browbeaten poor people to do it?

If it isn't, the grand automated future of capitalism will remain a piece of propaganda designed by those who want to push the story that workers are being ground underfoot by the inevitable march of technology, rather than by political choice.

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The issue is patriotism. You've got to get back to your planet and stop the Commies. All it takes is a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

edg's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

The average annual pay for a farm worker is about $25K. If a machine working 24/7 (less maintenance) replaces 4 workers, that's $100K per year. If the lifetime of the machine is 10 years (which is the actual average lifetime for existing farm machinery), that's $1M. High-end farm equipment can cost up to $700K (see Farm Equipment Prices) but the average price of seeders and weeders is less than $200K. So basically, the machine pays for itself in 2 years.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@edg

Not what I would have guessed, given how Immokalee looks.

After searching for current information (not easy), I found this:

https://ciw-online.org/blog/2016/05/huffington-post-farm-workers-are-tak...

There’s a lot to talk about on the subject. Farmworkers in the U.S. earn extremely low wages — an average annual individual income of $12,500 to $14,999, according to the Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey. Most lack health insurance and many work long hours — more than half of NAWS respondents report working more than 40 hours a week.

That's what it was without organizing. With organizing, with a fierce, dedicated workers' movement (the Coalition of Immokalee Workers) it became this:

All the changes have made a big difference for the workers over the four growing seasons they’ve been in effect, according to CIW organizer Gerardo Reyes Chávez. All told, 90 percent of the tomato farms in Florida are now participating in the program and annual pay for pickers at participating growers is about $17,000.

So, about $8,000/year less than 25K. And that's where there's been a successful workers' movement.

However, I don't doubt that as wages rise, more and more growers will turn to automation.

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The issue is patriotism. You've got to get back to your planet and stop the Commies. All it takes is a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

edg's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

The figure I used is from the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS). Here's a chart:

Here's the link to the full ERS report: Farm Labor

The NAWS report cited by Huffington Post covers crop workers only while the USDA ERS report covers all farm workers, including crop workers. The ERS report shows crop workers averaging $12 per hour, so $12 X 40 hours per week X 52 weeks per year = $25K. [Keeping in mind that crop work is seasonal and geographic, of course, so actual average income may be less.]

The data at your link is stale. I don't know when the data is from, but the most recent NAWS report says "[Individual workers’] mean and median personal incomes the previous year were in the range of $17,500 to $19,999." That's $5K above HUffPo's "$12,500 to $14,499 for individuals".

Here's the link to the most recent NAWS report available: Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015-2016

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@edg

was old.

I put it in my response to show the trajectory of where the workers were before and after organizing. After organizing, their average income went up (among participating growers) to around 17K/year--CIW has been remarkably effective. The number that was fresh (I thought) was the 17K/year figure. Given than 17,500 is the bottom number of your NAWS number, and given that your number includes all agricultural laborers, not just pickers, it makes sense that pickers would be at the bottom of that range.

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The issue is patriotism. You've got to get back to your planet and stop the Commies. All it takes is a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@edg

It can get frustrating sometimes looking for hard data on Google.

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1 user has voted.

The issue is patriotism. You've got to get back to your planet and stop the Commies. All it takes is a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem