Automation will likely permeate the future of hop growing, even up to the decision making level. Agriculture is a laboratory for AI and robotics just as every other industry. Autonomous tractors already exist, although they are not yet so common in the hop industry. Everyday we hear news from Silicon Valley about autonomous vehicles on the streets. Stories about autonomous vehicles are common today. They aren’t even newsworthy anymore. Autonomy on the farm is simpler than in a city due to the reduced number of variables to track.
“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Minimum wage in Washington State in 2016 was $9.47 per hour. Now, it is $11.00 per hour. That’s an increase of $1.53 (13.9%) since 5 weeks ago. By 2020, the proposed minimum wage in Washington State will be $13.50 per hour. Increasing the minimum wage is a highly politicized issue. Regardless of your political beliefs on minimum wage, we all must admit there are consequences to the increases. An increasing minimum wage has one unintended consequence that is coming at the wrong time. It makes robotics, the cost of which is decreasing with each passing year, a more viable option to replace nearly all minimum wage or low wage workers.
Automation will touch almost every job requiring manual labor done on a hop farm today, during the next decade, if not sooner. Minimum wage increases alone are not the impetus for the evolution of agriculture. They will, however, hasten the coming changes. Where does the automation end? Can AI replace farmers and the decisions they make? Can future AI make more accurate decisions than humans? That’s not possible today. The fields of robotics and AI, however, is developing at an exponential pace. The time when the owner of the farm simply has to simply approve the recommendations given to him or her by a machine and send out the drones is in the foreseeable future. When that happens, the limitations of a farm will change.
Case in point, the latest development in robotics by Boston Dynamics, a company labeled “X” by it’s parent company, Alphabet.
We are entering a brave new world.