Cotton Harvesting Technology Cuts Labor Costs

A century ago, one of the most miserable jobs was picking cotton in the hot sun. Now cotton farming has become highly automated like much of present-day agriculture. One cutting-edge machine is a John Deere cotton stripper which moves through the fields, picking and processing eight rows of cotton at a time and finally plopping out a 5000-pound packaged tube of the fiber ready to be sent to a modern cotton gin where cleaning and baling is completed.

The importance of the machine’s efficiency, particularly cutting the expense of workers, stands out in the company video below. The voice-over says, “Perhaps best of all is the decrease in your labor costs.” Cotton farmer Mike Henson of Ropesville, Texas, remarked positively, “The biggest thing about it was a one-man operation doing what nine or ten other people usually do.”

So why does Washington continue importing immigrant workers like it’s 1910?

Adding millions of low-skilled foreigners to America will look like a really bad idea when automation becomes obvious as a disruptive social force. From farm to factory, the workplace is changing fundamentally because of smart machines, and the revolution only getting started: in fact tech experts predict the next five years will see a growing threat to jobs and a need for workers to have technical skills to stay employed.

The move to automation will speed up as the machines get cheaper. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to machine or software replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that in 30 years humans will become largely obsolete, and world joblessness will reach 50 percent. The Gartner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. The consultancy firm PwC published a report last year that forecast robots could take 38 percent of US jobs by 2030.

Right now, things are changing down on the farm.

Lessons From a Slow-Motion Robot Takeover, By Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg.com, February 9, 2018

Cotton harvesting is now dominated by machines. But it took decades to happen.

From the cab of Rodney Terry’s state-of-the-art John Deere cotton stripper, harvesting cotton seems like the easiest job in the world. We chug along at four or five miles an hour, watching the giant machine’s bright yellow fingers gobble up eight rows of bolls at a time. White rows magically turn brown as we pass over them. Then comes the reveal, as every few minutes a plastic-wrapped cylinder eight feet across plops out the back, holding as much as 5,000 pounds of cotton ready for the gin.

“This thing is just constantly moving,” says Terry, who farms 6,000 acres in Ropesville, Texas, a half hour’s drive southwest of Lubbock. The stripper cost a whopping $700,000, but it’s amazingly efficient. Terry can harvest 100 to 120 acres a day, compared to 80 with the previous generation of equipment, which had to stop periodically to empty its basket of harvested cotton into a trailer. He can also keep working in windy weather that would blow away loose bolls waiting to be wrapped in the field.

Most important, he no longer needs to hire a half dozen harvest workers to supplement his three full-time employees. Finding reliable seasonal laborers for farms and gins is increasingly difficult in West Texas. Locals blame government benefits that offer a better deal than temporary work. (“Don’t get me started,” says Terry.) Bringing in the harvest with his new setup takes only two people at a time: one to steer the stripper and one to drive a tractor that lines up the modules for the gin to pick up. Full-timers handle everything, and the machine can run all night if needed.

“I figured out this new machine, it’s displacing at least 1,000 people,” says Dan Taylor, a retired cotton farmer and gin owner in Ropesville. “It can harvest on a good day as much as a thousand people would harvest” in the days of hand-pulling cotton. Of course, most of those people left the cotton fields decades ago. The robots are taking the jobs — and they’ve been doing it for at least 60 years. The story of how cotton harvesting has changed over the decades doubles as a reminder that even robots take their time. At least until a certain point.

1) Full automation was impossible without years of tinkering. Although mechanized cotton harvesters were available in the 1920s, they didn’t catch on until after World War II. As long as farms needed workers to hoe weeds and thin cotton plants, replacing them at harvest time made little economic sense. Chemicals, not machines, solved that part of the problem; the ground between rows in Terry’s field is perfectly bare.

Even that wasn’t the end of it. “The ancillary requirements seemed to go on and on,” wrote the late historian Donald Holley in The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the South. Gins had to install dryers, for instance, because machine-harvested cotton retained more moisture. Farmers needed chemical defoliants to apply before harvesting so that their bales wouldn’t be contaminated with leaf trash. Breeders had to develop shorter plants with bolls that emerged at the same time, allowing a single pass through the fields. Until all these things had happened, harvesters had limited appeal.

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Tucker Carlson Analyzes the Big Picture of Immigration, including the Automated Future

The popular Fox News host appeared on another show onThursday and proceeded to give a brief history lesson on immigration and how today there is no longer a need for America to import mass numbers of foreign workers.

Tucker Carlson reminded the viewers that immigration should exist only when it helps — not harms — the American people: “. . . the point of immigration policy — the point of all US government policies — is always the same which is to benefit American citizens, so the question isn’t ‘Does this country need to send people here for its sake?’ the question is ‘Do we benefit from their coming here?’ and so the real debate is ‘Are these numbers right?’ and I don’t know if they are or not, but no one seems to be even arguing over that.

“DHS says that there are higher-than-average fraud rates among Haitian immigrants and higher-than-average overstays. If you think that’s wrong, I think that’s a completely fair conversation to have, but no one’s bothering because virtually everyone in Washington, including most Republican leaders, believes the U.S. somehow, for reasons they never fully explain, has a moral obligation to let people in to relieve economic pressure on their countries, to assist in disaster relief or whatever, but none of those reasons have anything to do with Americans or helping America. And I think that’s maybe the best part about Trump is forcing the conversation back to its core — ‘Is it good for us, or is it not?’ ”

Martha McCallum replied that indeed, America in the past has had pauses in immigration, but the debate is far more limited now.

Tucker then explained how the need for foreign labor has largely ended, due to the development of the nation over time and today’s technological change, namely automation: “Previous waves of immigration had clear economic justifications — so the country was opening up to the west, manifest destiny, someone needed to farm the land, immigrants did that. Then it was industrialized, factories needed workers, we brought them from abroad from western, central and eastern Europe and other places. There’s no economic justification for the current waves of immigrants coming — none — we don’t have a massive need for low-wage labor, in fact just the opposite: that’s going away, according to every estimate, because of automation.

“So what is the point of this? How does it help? I understand that it helps foreign countries, and all those people are nice great people, I’m not attacking them, but how does it help America, the people who put these leaders in office who pay for the whole thing? No one even bothers to explain that because they don’t care.”

It’s good to see someone in media connecting the dots between immigration and technology: it makes no sense to continue immigration at record levels when the robots are coming on strong. There is a clamor from business for more labor now because President Trump has unleashed capitalism to grow and hire. However, as smart machines become cheaper they will replace human workers, a process that is already underway in some areas of the economy like fast-food restaurants.

Automotive manufacturing has been largely automated for years, but it is out of the public eye.

In a much cited study, Oxford University researchers predicted in 2013 that nearly half of US jobs were vulnerable to replacement by smart machines in 20 years. Even President Obama warned about technology taking jobs in his final days while he continued immigration anarchy at the border to import millions of foreigners to work (and vote Democrat).

Several knowledgeable firms have forecast that the threat to jobs from smart machines will become significant in around five years.

There’s not a lot that can be done to prepare for the automation juggernaut except to increase technological training and reduce immigration. But the federal government has been asleep to the massive job threat estimated to begin in a few years.

Hey, Washington — Automation makes immigration obsolete!

Amazon Robots Propel Online Shopping but Repress Retail

Stores are certainly suffering since Amazon brought its robot battalions onto the retail field. The Kiva robots are an integral and necessary part of the millions of products that Jeff Bezos sells online and quickly ships to customers. Amazon purchased the Kiva robots in 2012 for $775 million; before that, human workers pushed carts around warehouses, walking miles daily to pick the items customers had ordered.

Below, the little orange Kiva robots scoot under racks of merchandise and deliver them to humans who fulfill the orders.

Today, many people find it easier to shop online than to spend hours to drive through traffic to a store that may not have what they want. Amazon’s recent record-breaking Cyber Monday following Thanksgiving illustrates its increasing success, along with Jeff Bezos’ ascent to becoming the richest man in the world.

The universe of work is undergoing a fundamental transformation because of automation and computers, and we’re just beginning to see how the future may function. Massive job destruction is a given, according to numerous tech experts. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to machine or software replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that in 30 years humans will become largely obsolete, and world joblessness will reach 50 percent. The Gartner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. The consultancy firm PwC published a report earlier this year that forecast robots could take 38 percent of US jobs by 2030.

Amazon may be adding employees now, but the company’s long term plans are to replace workers in their function of filling and packing customer orders as shown by the company’s annual Picking Challenge competition for robots.

And plenty of other industries from agriculture to accounting are incorporating more smart machines to save money.

So it makes no sense for America to continue importing millions of immigrants who expect to work here, right?

Retail jobs decline as Amazon’s robot army grows, CNBC, December 4, 2017

Amazon employs over half a million workers. In the past year alone, the online retailer has added roughly a quarter of a million employees to its headcount, and 238 cities across the country are competing to become the location of Amazon’s second headquarters, which is estimated to create 50,000 more Amazon jobs.

But according to Dave Edwards and Helen Edwards at Quartz, Amazon may be killing more jobs than it creates. Quartz found that there are 170,000 fewer retail jobs in Amazon-related industries — like bookstores, grocery stores and clothing stores — in 2017 than the year before.

According to their calculations, even if Amazon maintains an impressive 43 percent personnel growth for another year, the total number of workers employed in Amazon-related industries would still decrease by 24,000.

So where are the jobs going? Quartz suggests that an increase in robotic workers could be to blame. They estimate that Amazon added 75,000 new robots to their workforce in 2017 for a total of roughly 100,000. By these approximations, machines constitute 20 percent of all Amazon “employees.”

More robots don’t always mean fewer jobs, but it may in the case of Amazon. Edwards and Edwards write, “While it may be difficult to prove causality, it’s not difficult to see the correlation between a decline of 24,000 human employees and an increase of 75,000 robot employees.”

Amazon attests that the investment in technological workers has improved efficiency. CNBC reports it takes 90 minutes on average for a human Amazon employee to find a product and package it, but with the help of robots, a product can be found and packaged in as little as 13 minutes.

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Trump Effect: Farmers Turn from Foreign Pickers to Automation

Farm automation has been progressing along, just like uses of smart machines in other industries, but agbots may now be getting an extra boost. Apparently President Trump’s crackdown on illegal border crossings has decreased the supply of foreign pickers, so farmers are looking more favorably at tech solutions. The transition would have happened anyway, but immigration enforcement is speeding it up a bit.

Not only are there are robot weeders, pickers and cultivators, but cows can now walk into an automated milker when they feel the need.

Agricultural automation makes immigrant farm workers obsolete.

Who will pick the strawberries without illegal immigrants? ROBOTS!

For an extra automation touch, you can listen to the Reuters article posted below being read by a robot:

As Trump targets immigrants, U.S. farm sector looks to automate, Reuters, November 9, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Convincing big U.S. dairy owners to buy robots to milk their cows – and reduce the farmhands they employ – used to be a tough sell for Steve Fried. Recently, his job has gotten easier, he says, in part because of President Donald Trump.

“I get calls on a daily basis and it typically starts with, ‘I don’t want to deal with this labor headache any more’,” said Fried, sales manager for Lely North America, which makes robotic dairy milking and feeding systems.

Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration through stepped-up arrests and border enforcement has shaken the U.S. agricultural sector, where as many as 7 in 10 farm workers are undocumented, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In addition, Republican lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation that would require all employers to check social security numbers against federal databases to ensure their workers are in the country legally, something that is now voluntary in all but a handful of states.

The get-tough approach “has created a great deal of anxiety,” said Tom Vilsack, chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, who was U.S. Agriculture Secretary for eight years under President Barack Obama.

The shift comes as the industry was already struggling to cope with a shrinking, aging workforce. That is ratcheting up pressure on the sector to embrace new technology.

Farmers and food companies increasingly are moving to automate dairy operations, chicken processing, crop production and harvesting. Even delicate crops such as strawberries and peaches are being considered for mechanization.

“You’d be a fool to not have a plan that moves you that way,” said Duff Bevill, who owns a vineyard management company in Sonoma County, California.

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Tucker Notes Automation’s Effect on Need for Immigrant Workers

On Tuesday, Tucker Carlson had a rapid-fire interview with billionaire Mark Cuban who thinks he might challenge President Trump in the 2020 Republican primary. Cuban bragged on how he can use his technological expertise to solve government problems, but he shrunk into nonsense at an automation question with an obvious answer:

MARK CUBAN: We need to find ways to reduce the cost of those entitlements while maintaining the same level of care. I’m a tech guy, and the reality is I would focus on creating technology solutions. I have investments that I see myself where it can have an impact. I think there’s a way that we can reduce the size of government, the size of bureaucracy that deals with healthcare but it’s going to take somebody who understands technology that can introduce technology to find those solutions, and I think it can happen relatively quickly.

TUCKER CARLSON: You definitely understand technology and you’ve been one of the people, to your great credit, who’s been sounding the alarm about automation’s effect on employment: you said robots are basically going to kill a lot of jobs; I think you’re right. Given that, is allowing about a million low-wage low-skilled workers into the country every year legally is that a good idea? Is that the right level of immigration?

CUBAN: You know what, you can argue both sides of that, Tucker, I’m not, I don’t have all the data to make the final decision, but on one hand you can say that it takes jobs away from people who need them the most. On the other hand, because of the demographic trends you can say we need people to fill certain jobs, you know if you look at agriculture, there’s jobs that are going unfilled, so you know there’s arguments for both sides. I’m not ready to come to a conclusion.

Wait, this guy is presenting himself as the successful tech expert and he thinks that America still needs Mexicans to pick crops? Hardly, at least not in the near future. Advances in agricultural robots make immigrant farm labor obsolete.

The future of agriculture is automated.

And if Cuban really is familiar with automation-caused job loss, he must certainly be aware of expert projections about the topic which are rather grim. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to machine or software replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that in 30 years humans will become largely obsolete, and world joblessness will reach 50 percent. The Gartner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. The consultancy firm PwC published a report earlier this year that forecast robots could take 38 percent of US jobs by 2030.

At least Tucker Carlson is connecting the dots between automation and the alleged need for immigrant workers in the automated future.

New York Times Frets over Suffering Illegal Aliens in Fire-Ravaged Wine Country

The Times is concerned that the recent infernos in northern California have left many of the foreign workers homeless, or certainly with fewer housing choices. The paper fears that they might pick up and depart, leaving wineries with no workers for the vineyards.

Interestingly, many of the grape pickers are illegal immigrants, even though the H-2A visa allows farmers to have as many foreign ag workers as they want.

But technology provides the answer to any fire-caused labor shortage with a variety of agricultural robots. The video below reports that regarding the chore of pruning back shoots, “In a nine-hour workday, a crew of about 20 workers can get to 200 plants, but with these machines a crew of just three workers can get to over 14,000.”

The machine still needs a driver, but a self-driving tractor-robot for grape-picking can’t be far off.

A French inventor has created a more futuristic-looking machine, called a Wall-Ye, for tending the grapes, shown below. It is a tiny, less tractor-like machine that putters around from the ground level to do its thing. The video following says the inventor hopes to put the machine into production in a few months, and the cost will be around 25,000 euros.

So the New York Times needn’t worry about agricultural tasks getting done — that sector of the automation revolution is moving ahead quite rapidly.

As Fires Move On, Wine Country Wonders Whether Immigrants Will, Too, New York Times, October 17, 2017

Many of the foreign-born workers the region depends on are undocumented and do not qualify for most disaster aid. They may struggle to find affordable housing.

SEBASTOPOL, Calif. — The lush vineyards that dot the hillsides and valleys here largely survived the fires that leveled neighborhood after neighborhood to the east.

Crushed cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other grapes in tanks are now fermenting into wines that have earned California a prestigious place among global producers.

But the wine industry and the lodging, restaurant and construction sectors that help make this bucolic region a draw for millions of visitors each year are now bracing for a different crisis: the potential loss of many members of their immigrant work force.

Some 5,700 houses and structures have been destroyed and many more damaged by the blazes that barreled through Northern California last week. About 100,000 people were displaced, temporarily or permanently.

It is still too early to know how many of them were immigrants, who are in the most precarious position of any group. Because many of them are in the country illegally, they are ineligible for most disaster aid, raising concerns that those without places to live will move to other regions where housing is more plentiful and cheaper.

“To function, we have to be able to retain the immigrant workers in the area,” said Cameron Mauritson, who grows grapes on 350 acres in Sonoma County for 60 wineries. Losing them, he said, would be “catastrophic to our economy.”

In absolute numbers, the population of immigrants in Los Angeles, Oakland and other California metropolitan areas dwarfs that of Sonoma County. But immigrants play a significant role here: nearly one-fifth of the residents in Santa Rosa’s metropolitan area are foreign-born, according to an analysis by Manuel Pastor, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies immigration. Latin American immigrants, mainly from Mexico, dominate the blue-collar work force.

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Tucker Carlson Considers Trump’s 70-Point List of Immigration Enforcement

On Monday, Tucker Carlson examined the latest from the White House about enforcing law and sovereignty, noting, “The administration has now put forward a 70-point immigration plan which calls for easier deportations of people here illegally, a border wall or a partial border wall anyway and new limits on chain migration, which is the idea that once you get here all of your relatives can come. Those are all preconditions for any future amnesty of DACA beneficiaries. Could this be the beginning of real immigration reform?”

Tucker chatted up a liberal radio host from Los Angeles, Ethan Bearman, who was quite chipper about continuing the import of foreign workers. Interestingly, automation came up and Tucker connected the dots. He didn’t say “Automation makes immigration obsolete” but pretty close!

ETHAN BEARMAN: I want people out of the shadows, so they’re not abused and they’re not subjugated by unscrupulous people who take advantage of them while they’re here working. By the way, one of the advantages of a long term change here with increased minimum wages is you’re gonna see Silicon Valley fill that void. John Deere just bought a huge company — it was over three hundred million dollars, to buy a company that makes the lettuce bot to automate some of that so there are long term trends that are happening here as well, but why are why do we want to be as mean as possible?

TUCKER CARLSON: I like immigrants, I actually really do. I grew up in California. I like them. But I think our primary responsibility is to Americans, but I wonder as a macro question, if we’re automating a lot of these jobs — and you just said we’re going to — why do we need 1.1. million legal low-skilled workers every year and an unknown but high number of illegal ones? What’s the point, what are they gonna do exactly? If jobs are going away, why are we importing all these people? Has anyone ever stopped to ask that question?

In fact, smart farm machines have been coming on strong for a long time, and the advances in ag technology are making human farm laborers a thing of the past. When a farmer can rent a robot weeding machine for $300/month, why would he bother with a crew of Mexicans? The future of farming is automated — along with many other industries.

Now, back to the larger subject of Trump’s List. NumbersUSA has a simplified enumeration, excerpted immediately below. The voluminous entire list follows that.

WH Immigration Principles Call for Ending Chain Migration & Mandatory E-Verify, October 8, 2017

BORDER SECURITY: Build a southern border wall and close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration and swell the court backlog.

• Fund and complete construction of the southern border wall.

• Authorize the Department of Homeland Security to raise and collect fees from visa services and border-crossings

• Fund border security and enforcement activities.

• Ensure the safe and expeditious return of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) and family units.

• End abuse of our asylum system by tightening standards, imposing penalties for fraud, and ensuring detention while claims are verified.

• Remove illegal border crossers quickly by hiring an additional 370 Immigration Judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys.

• Discourage illegal re-entry by enhancing penalties and expanding categories of inadmissibility.

• Improve expedited removal.

• Increase northern border security.

INTERIOR ENFORCEMENT: Enforce our immigration laws and return visa overstays.

• Protect innocent people in sanctuary cities.

• Authorize and incentivize States and localities to help enforce Federal immigration laws.

• Strengthen law enforcement by hiring 10,000 more ICE officers and 300 Federal prosecutors.

• End visa overstays by establishing reforms to ensure their swift removal.

• Stop catch-and-release by correcting judicial actions that prevent ICE from keeping dangerous aliens in custody pending removal and expanding the criteria for expedited removal.

• Prevent gang members from receiving immigration benefits.

• Protect U.S. workers by requiring E-Verify and strengthening laws to stop employment discrimination against U.S. workers.

• Improve visa security by expanding State Department’s authority to combat visa fraud, ensuring funding of the Visa Security Program, and expanding it to high-risk posts.

MERIT-BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM: Establish reforms that protect American workers and promote financial success.

• End extended-family chain migration by limiting family-based green cards to include spouses and minor children.

• Establish a points-based system for green cards to protect U.S. workers and taxpayers.

Here in the Scribd format is the whole 70-item thing.

Administration Immigration Principles by Alex Pfeiffer on Scribd

California: Refugees Supply Cheap Labor for Meatpacking Industry

Monday’s front-pager for the Los Angeles Times is a reminder that refugees are just another variety of cheap-labor immigrants.

Meatpacking plants used to be a big magnet for illegal alien labor which was convenient for the industry, and the business recruited openly in Mexico. But in 2006, the government raided six Swift plants and carted off around 1300 unlawful workers, so management looked for a different source of cheap labor instead of offering better wages to attract citizens. Refugees were one answer.

But there are caveats. The industry is very interested in automation technology that will end the struggles of labor acquisition. As a result, many of the unskilled refugees are likely to be unemployed in a few years, requiring even more taxpayer assistance.

Below, a diagram of a robotic chicken butcher shows the sort of technology the meatpacking industry wants to adapt.

Also, the story notes that the refugees are from Muslim nations, and while Taiseer and the others profiled sound like upstanding fellows, the second generation is where the trouble often starts among Muslim immigrants. Second gens may have identity problems, feeling they are neither entirely American nor the parents’ tribe either. As a consequence, the strong message of jihad and sharia can sound like the answer to a young person’s confusion.

The most prudent policy would be to admit NO Muslims as immigrants at all. Public safety should come first.

In California’s poultry plants, refugees from war fill labor vacuum, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2017

Taiseer Al Souki spends most days on his feet at a Foster Farms poultry plant, hefting table-sized plastic brown boxes and feeding them into a machine that cleans them.

He plugs his ears to soften the deafening clang of heavy machinery as he cycles through the same motion for hours on end.

At night, after slumping to sleep in exhaustion, the 44-year-old Syrian refugee dreams that he’s at the plant, still hoisting box after box filled with chicken destined for dinner tables across America.

Al Souki does not complain. He fled war-torn Syria and worked backbreaking 12-hour shifts in his home country and Jordan before making his way to the United States. He is grateful for the $10.50 an hour he collects at the poultry plant.

“I like work. I need work,” he said in the smattering of English he has picked up. “Without work, not a man.” [. . .]

The meatpacking industry has become so reliant on refugees that the North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, released a statement stating their concerns after President Trump issued an executive action restricting citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entry into the United States.

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Robots Are the Next Generation of Farmworkers

It’s good to see traditional media connect the dots between automation and immigration, as the Los Angeles Times inadvertently did somewhat on Tuesday’s front page:

The online version of the article appeared last week, on Friday, July 21. An above-the-fold story with photo gets a lot more attention, certainly, as long as those newspaper boxes are sitting on the sidewalk.

The missing part of the message is that the machines make importing foreign farmworkers increasingly unnecessary. If fewer illegals are crossing the border because of Trump, that may hasten smart machines in the fields, but ag robots are coming sooner or later: when the machines become cheaper than human pickers, then field workers will be gone, period.

Plus, it’s long past time that Mexico etc. became more responsive to its own people’s needs, rather than pushing them north to mooch from America.

Remember,

Automation Makes Immigration Obsolete

Can we get Washington to notice that the world of work is changing fundamentally?

A new generation of farmworkers: Robots, By Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2017

Growers race to mechanize as labor pool shrinks

Driscoll’s is so secretive about its robotic strawberry picker it won’t let photographers within telephoto range of it.

But if you do get a peek, you won’t see anything humanoid or space-aged. AgroBot is still more John Deere than C-3PO — a boxy contraption moving in fits and starts, with its computer-driven sensors, graspers and cutters missing 1 in 3 berries.

Such has been the progress of ag-tech in California, where despite the adoption of drones, iPhone apps and satellite-driven sensors, the hand and knife still harvest the bulk of more than 200 crops.

Now, the $47-billion agriculture industry is trying to bring technological innovation up to warp speed before it runs out of low-wage immigrant workers.

California will have to remake its fields like it did its factories, with more machines and better-educated workers to labor beside them, or risk losing entire crops, economists say.

“California agriculture just isn’t going to look the same,” said Ed Taylor, a UC Davis rural economist. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find crops grown as labor-intensively as they are now.”

Driscoll’s, which grows berries in nearly two dozen countries and is the world’s top berry grower, already is moving its berries to table- top troughs, where they are easier for both humans and machines to pick, as it has done over the last decade in Australia and Europe.

“We don’t see — no matter what happens — that the labor problem will be solved,” said Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s of the Americas.

That’s because immigrant farmworkers in California’s agricultural heartlands are getting older and not being replaced.

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Farm Robot Is Touted as Kinder to Workers

Down on the farm in Salinas California, a new robot harvester uses “water knives” — actually high-powered water jets — to pick lettuce. To hear the industry flacks describe it, the machines end unhealthy stoop labor in lettuce fields. But details in the story suggest that President Trump’s border enforcement is having an effect when it says, “Fewer immigrant workers are coming to the fields.” Big ag is explaining in a way to portray itself as a humanitarian when other factors are the cause.

In fact, automation has been transforming agriculture just as it has changed factories.


Welcome to Salinas! The Farming Town Where… by wired

The story also does a little dance when it says the machines reduce the need for labor, but workers won’t lose their jobs. In the case of the lettuce robo-harvester, the workers are now doing different tasks like sorting and packing, but how long until automation does those jobs as well? Growers are always looking for less expensive means of production, and that means more smart machines are coming in the long run.

So the Salinas case is another example that America’s cheap worker immigration must end: unskilled foreigners will just end up on the welfare rolls.

Automation makes immigration obsolete.

Below, a robot lettuce harvester moves through a Salinas field.

Robots Wielding Water Knives Are the Future of Farming, Wired.com, May 31, 2017

JUST AFTER DAWN in the Salinas Valley south of San Francisco, a raucous robot rolls through a field spitting clouds of vapor. It’s cutting lettuce heads with water knives—super-high-pressure beams—and gobbling up the produce. The heads roll up its mouth and onto a conveyor belt, where workers in hoodies and aprons grab the lettuce and tear off the loose leaves.

Right across the road, workers are harvesting lettuce the agonizing old-fashioned way—bent over with knife in hand. “If you’re a beginner, it kills you because your back really hurts,” says Isabel Garcia, a harvester who works atop the robot. “It takes somebody really strong to be doing that kind of work.”

Garcia and the other workers here didn’t lose their jobs to a robot—they work in tandem with one. And just as well, because California farms are facing a serious labor shortage of perhaps 20 percent. Increasingly sophisticated robots have to pick up the slack, here and around the world. Because if humanity expects to feed its booming population off a static amount of land, it’s going to need help.

Here in the Salinas Valley, farmers and tech types are teaming up to turn this into a kind of Silicon Valley for agriculture. And they’re not stopping at water-knife-wielding robots. Because it’s data that will truly drive this agricultural revolution. It’s not just about robots doing jobs humans don’t want to do, but AI doing jobs humans can’t do. And AI can’t go anywhere without data.

For sure, the robots will definitely support the dwindling farming workforce. Fewer immigrant workers are coming to the fields, and their demographics are shifting. “Just with a changing population here in California, we’ve got an aging workforce,” says Mark Borman, president of Taylor Farms California, which operates the robot. “So people who are coming out to do agricultural, we’re not getting that younger population into the job.”

(cont.)

Left Media Admits Automation May Affect Need for Immigrant Farm Workers

It’s nearly summer and that means the time has come for media boilerplate articles about a shortage of immigrant workers down on the farm — so couldn’t Washington kindly arrange for a few hundred thousand to be sent to California?? Right on schedule, a Google News search (which covers the last 30 days of listings) for Immigrant Farm Labor Shortage brings up 14,600 results.

You would think there was no such thing as the H-2A visa which allows for unlimited foreign farm workers. Open borders are so much more convenient for everyone concerned — except law-abiding citizens.

However, a different farm labor solution has been developing over the last few years — smart machines that can pick apples, harvest almonds, milk cows and various other agricultural chores.

“Who will pick the strawberries?” used to be an argument for open borders. But now the answer is robots.

Even the immigration-worshiping left media now says that machines are coming to the fields, and the need for foreigners may need to be adjusted. The PRI radio station chats up the changes, including hopeful remarks from immigrant workers. The have no idea what sort of labor revolution is about to happen, but people much better educated than they are similarly naive.

Certainly America won’t H-2A visas or any immigrant workers at all for that matter, given the automated future that will similarly affect most workplaces.

No farm workers? How about a robot, PRI’s The World, June 02, 2017

Blue River Technology’s LettuceBot uses sensors and cameras similar to those in self-driving cars to thin lettuce. Engineer Ken Hickman says the machine is “doing its own thinking” as it thins lettuce, about three times faster than a human crew. Credit: Valerie Hamilton

At Lakeside Organic Gardens, a vegetable farm on California’s central coast, field-workers bundled up against the sun are thinning lettuce crops, chopping out some plants to make room for others. The farm’s owner, Dick Peixoto, walks through the rows, complimenting his workers as he moves along.

“Swinging that hoe from that distance, being able to pick out one plant and not the other, they’re really experts at what they do,” he says. “They’re artists, you know what I mean?”

That’s why I’m surprised at his answer when I ask him if he would replace these workers with a robot doing the same job.

“Not if,” he says, “the question is when.”

Immigrants do the majority of California’s field labor. But as demand grows, workers are becoming scarce. It’s hard for field-workers to come to the US legally. It’s dangerous for them to come illegally. The people working the fields now are getting older, and younger workers want different jobs.

“The handwriting is already up and down the wall that we’ll never have the labor force that we had before,” Peixoto says. “Anyone who’s not adapting to that today has got their head in the sand.”

Enter the LettuceBot. Continue reading this article

President Trump Approves of Continuing Big Immigration

It was disappointing, although not entirely surprising to read President Trump’s disinterest in limiting legal immigration, as remarked in a May 11 Economist interview and quoted by Mark Krikorian in National Review:

Do you want to curb legal immigration?
Oh sure, you know, I want to stop illegal immigration.

And what about legal immigration? Do you want to cut the number of immigrants?
Oh legal, no, no, no. I want people to come into the country legally. No, legally? No. I want people to come in legally. But I want people to come in on merit. I want to go to a merit-based system. Actually two countries that have very strong systems are Australia and Canada. And I like those systems very much, they’re very strong, they’re very good, I like them very much. We’re going to a much more merit-based system. But I absolutely want talented people coming in, I want people that are going to love our country coming in, I want people that are going to contribute to our country coming in. We want a provision at the right time, we want people that are coming in and will commit to not getting…not receiving any form of subsidy to live in our country for at least a five-year period.

But the numbers of those people could be as high as the numbers that are coming in legally now? You’re not looking to reduce the numbers?

Oh yeah, no, no, no, no, we want people coming in legally. No, very strongly. Now they’re going to be much more strongly vetted as you see. You know, we’ve broken the all-time record [of detentions at the border] by many times, 73, we’re up to 73, it’s going to go up to almost 80% at the border, we’ve…you know, really stopped it. We also want farm workers to be able to come in. You know, we’re going to have work visas for the farm workers. If you look, you know we have a lot of people coming through the border, they’re great people and they work on the farms and then they go back home. We like those people a lot and we want them to continue to come in.

The comments of President Trump were foreshadowed by his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s declaration in March that automation’s threat to American jobs was “not even on our radar screen … 50-100 more years.” President Trump has spoken often about globalization as the source of job loss without mention of automation. That ignorance is concerning.

Below, automobile manufacturing once employed millions of Americans, but no longer, since the robots arrived.

Mnuchin’s opinion is not shared by many tech and robot experts, who believe that a substantial portion of US jobs could be automated within a couple decades. The big picture of employment is indeed sobering. Oxford researchers forecast in 2013 that nearly half of American jobs were vulnerable to machine or software replacement within 20 years. Rice University computer scientist Moshe Vardi believes that in 30 years humans will become largely obsolete, and world joblessness will reach 50 percent. The Gartner tech advising company believes that one-third of jobs will be done by machines by 2025. Forrester Research Inc. has a more optimistic view, that there will be a net job loss of 7 percent by 2025 from automation. The recent PwC forecast was only slightly less severe than the Oxford numbers.

Even the most upbeat forecast reveals the foolishness of continuing to import large numbers of immigrants as workers because they are not needed now and will be even more unemployable in coming years. A growing community of angry, jobless foreigners does not sound like a recipe for domestic peace and tranquility.

In addition, overpopulated California dodged a bullet by having a very rainy winter in 2016-17 that ended a disastrous drought that I suspect was worse than authorities were willing to admit. The state experienced severe mega-droughts from 900-1400 which is quite recent in climate terms, and there is no guarantee that similar droughts won’t recur.

California’s Lake Oroville was almost dry in September 2014.

What happens in a modern society when a region runs out of water and millions need to relocate? Certainly in the west, water supply must be considered before inviting millions more immigrants to come live in America.

The automated, potentially drought-plagued future strongly suggests that immigration is an institution that needs to be retired for the good of all Americans.

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