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Gedney Dyke firm wins money to create automated daffodil picker to help tackle labour shortages

A project to develop a daffodil picker to help combat labour shortages has won nearly £300,000 in national funding.

Gedney Dyke family firm C Wright and Son is working with Autopickr, which is based in Cambridge, to develop the robotic harvesting scheme after being offered £299,985 from the Launchpads programme.

Since 2020, the amount of horticultural land has decreased by 15% but it is hoped that this multi-functional robotic platform will help to tackle the issues posed by labour shortage and high costs.

A robotic daffodil picker is being developed
A robotic daffodil picker is being developed

Success in this project will lower labour costs for English growers and reduce barriers to the growth of daffodil production - which is a lucrative export market for growers.

Another Lincolnshire firm, Eyre Trailers in Coningsby, has also been offered money to develop an automated blueberry harvester.

Adam Cunnington, director of the Gedney Dyke firm which also grows asparagus, says that automation is the way forward.

A robotic daffodil picker is being developed
A robotic daffodil picker is being developed

He said: “Labour is getting hard to come by and any method of automating our harvest has to be the way forward. We have every faith in the project delivering automation to a much needed harvest operation.”

The daffodil picker will feature a sophisticated robotic arm, a platform weighing less than 45kg, and an artificial vision system to recognise picked flowers for the arm to collect and transport.

Growers have highlighted the fact that flower production, specifically daffodils, is another promising area in which to develop robotic capabilities.

An asparagus harvester has already been developed and will launch in the next three years.

Mr Cunnington said: “We are very pleased to have received funding for this project.”

Eyre Trailers could secure £299,693 to develop a fully automatic machine for harvesting blueberries, one of the UK's most important soft fruit crops.

The proposed machine will be fully automatic and will feature new berry removal and bush gripper systems. It will be designed to remove berries from the bush by the use of innovative shaking systems and should be available for widescale deployment by UK growers in 2025.

Blueberries are an important soft fruit market, worth £337million each year in this country and theUK industry has been expanding to meet demand - but it still only has a 7% share of the market.

“We're very privileged to have been offered the grant and to be working with the University of Lincoln, and we're looking forward to bringing the project to fruition,” said Bob Eyre from Eyre Trailers.

“Without this grant it would be difficult to bring this product to market, so we're really grateful.

“Blueberry harvesting is very labour-intensive as growers are completely reliant on hand-picking. Finding the workers to do it is difficult and expensive, so everybody is looking to reduce the labour costs and make the job more viable. Currently lots of fruit is left unpicked because the growers can't find the labour for the harvest.

“By the end of the project we aim to be manufacturing a machine that's fit for purpose and that satisfies the blueberry growers. It will be quite a big growth area for us and it could really rejuvenate our business.”

Ten other successful projects across the area include novel biological defences against aphids, enhancing the fibre content of food and drink products, enhancements in crop breeding, and creating new types of plant-based food packaging.

“We’re absolutely delighted that 12 projects have been successful across all four areas in the Eastern England region,” said Effie Warwick-John, UK Food Valley Programme Manager at the Greater Lincolnshire LEP.

“The successful projects cover a wide range of innovative projects which align very well with the UK Food Valley’s three core aims of increasing efficiency and productivity through automation and digitalisation, supporting low-carbon food chains and promoting naturally healthy good-for-you foods.

“We hope to encourage even more fantastic applications in the next round launching next week to showcase the Eastern England region’s brilliant agri-tech and food-tech innovation cluster.”

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