Stowe Boyd> [Octopus-like robots are plucking strawberries](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKT351pQHfI) in Spain, [in the US machines are vacuuming apples offSee more the trees](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS0coCmXiYU), and in the UK they are feeding and milking cows. Robots are taking over fields around the world, and [last week food and rural affairs secretary Andrea Leadsom suggested they could help replace the thousands of EU workers](https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/21/farmers-warning-eu-seasonal-workers-nfu-conference-birmingham) who currently help put food on British tables.
> And it is not just Brexit that is forcing the agricultural industry to embrace the next phase of mechanisation. Farmers are already having to rethink their operations in the face of higher minimum pay – mainly a result of the national living wage for over-25s, which came into effect last year.
> Robotic milking machines, in which cows queue up to milk themselves, are now mainstream, while systems tat automatically feed or track the health of livestock are on the rise. Next month, British researchers will attempt to produce cereal crops on a [“hands free hectare”](https://twitter.com/freehectare?lang=en) in Shropshire – where everything from planting seeds to assessing and harvesting the crop will be done without humans.
> Some farmers say planned increases in minimum pay alone would put them out of business if they did not find ways to improve productivity, or the amount of economic output per hour worked.
> “Apples are not so easy to pick [using robots], although there are working versions in the US and Israel and test rigs in the UK. Some predict that rigs will be harvesting robotically in two to three years, but my gut feeling is that robotics is five to ten years away,” says Simpson.
> “There’s no denying the fact that we need temporary overseas labour for UK agriculture. Robotics are not going to happen quickly enough for Brexit. Without access to European labour, UK agriculture dies on its feet.”
> Laurence Olins of British Summer Fruits, which represents most of the UK berry industry, agrees that robots are not the answer in the short term. “We’ will be using seasonal pickers for at least 10 years,” he says. “If Andrea Leadsom thinks otherwise, she’s mistaken.”
> Alfrut - a company in the south-western province of Huelva that exports strawberries, raspberries, and other fruits around the EU - still harvests by hand.
> “There is a machine that gathers strawberries, but you have to adapt the crop to the machine,” says Agustín Muriel, a technical and quality control expert at Alfrut. “If we were to use machines, we would have to modify our entire infrastructure and it would require a lot of investment in machinery, which is designed mainly for large areas and really big companies.”
> Muriel estimates that between 60% and 65% of the company’s workers are foreign, most of them from Morocco and Romania.