INNOVATIVE robots could soon be picking raspberries at farms around Chichester.
Soft fruit grower Hall Hunter Partnership – which has farms in Colworth, Runcton and in Vinnetrow Road – has agreed to field test high-tech harvesting robots.
The family-run business has signed an agreement with Fieldwork Robotics, which was founded by the University of Plymouth, and is led by robotics lecturer, Dr Martin Stoelen. It is currently creating machines capable of picking a range of fruit and vegetables.
The collaboration will enable the technology to be trialled in a range of settings, such as fields and polytunnels, under different climactic and light conditions. Field tests should start later this year.
Once they are a success, the technology can be easily adapted for other fruit and vegetables.
Hall Hunter Partnership chief operating officer David Green said: “HHP has always led the soft fruit industry in pushing forward productivity and quality standards on our farms and nurseries.
“This partnership with Fieldwork Robotics is an exciting new development to pioneer the harvesting of raspberries robotically at a commercial scale. We are looking forward to our first human-free hectare to be picked together.”
The partnership grows 14,000 tonnes of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Its major customers include Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.
CLA South East represents thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses in the region.
Its regional director, Robin Edwards, said: “Technology is more important than ever, especially as uncertainty remains over the European labour supply after Brexit.
“It is complex technology which needs to be able to spot a berry, assess if it’s ripe, aim and pick it without damaging it.”