Horticulture

Automation the future of packhouses

By Country News

A report written by 2018 Nuffield scholar Olabisi Oladele from Orrvale examined the business decision-making around automation in packhouses.

Dr Oladele is a technical manager at Geoffrey Thompson Holdings in Shepparton, an apple and pear horticulture business.

Her scholarship promoted career pathways in horticulture and researched the future impact of automation within the agriculture industry.

“To facilitate this new wave of automated operations, it’s important to understand the human capital requirements behind the change and focus on developing the future workforce,” Dr Oladele said.

Her report outlined how automation will be the future of the workforce as it improves productivity while creating new jobs that require employees to posses technological skills.

“Automated packhouses still need technicians to plan production, run the line and perform maintenance, preserving the need for human capital within these businesses,” Dr Oladele said.

Supported by The William Buckland Foundation, Dr Oladele travelled through Italy, France, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States and Canada and researched ways to promote career pathways in agriculture in preparation for increasing automation.

A case study in the report from Italy focused on the GEOS packhouse, which despite having automation, still used forklift drivers on the line.

“GEOS has been using different automated processes for the past 24 years, including a pre-sizer, automatic labelling and a palletiser with an integrated weighing system,” Dr Oladele said.

“Recognising the need for human capital during the three peak harvest weeks each year, GEOS opted to keep the drivers employed throughout the year.”

With an increased amount of labour shortages, Oladele said the next generation of employees needed to be trained in automation.

“In Australia, greater industry investment is required to raise awareness of career pathways and foster the development of potential employees in agriculture, to support both the growth of automated operations and the sustainability of the sector,” Dr Oladele said.

The report showed Australian universities only fill 20 per cent of the demand for jobs in Australian agriculture.