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Agriculture’s ‘Automation Revolution’

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: July | August 2016

Leaders of corporate farming met with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and deep-pockets investors in Salinas, California, last month to review the technological revolution in agriculture.

The second AgTech Summit was organized by Forbes business magazine and sponsored by the Western Growers Association and major Central Valley conglomerates such as Taylor Farms and Driscoll’s.

Monsanto, Wells Fargo, PG&E, and the financial group, American Ag Credit, were also among sponsors.

The 500 attendees from around the world came by invitation only. Though the conference was supposed to include “stakeholders” in world food production, no representatives of the United Farm Workers or any other workers’ organization were invited.

Members of the Western Growers Association have fought workers’ attempts to unionize since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Whole generations of the family owning Taylor Farms, for instance, have battled attempts to unionize.

Most recently that includes its 900 food-processing workers in Tracey, who are trying to join the Teamsters Union. They charge that Taylor has fired, harassed, and otherwise punished workers for supporting the union.

With 10,000 employees, Taylor is the world’s largest producer of fresh-cut vegetables. It supplies major supermarket and restaurant chains, such as Walmart and McDonald’s

Now, Taylor and other California agribusinesses are working with Silicon Valley to automate their fields and food-processing plants. Partnering with Monsanto and Verizon, they unveiled a new Center of Innovation and Technology in Salinas last year.

With proposals for a wall at the Mexican border — and robots replacing workers in the field — this year’s AgTech Summit asked what the future is for labor on U.S. farms.

Last year, the summit demonstrated tractors that plow fields on their own, drones that monitor vineyard operations, and a robot that thins lettuce plants in the field.

All this would be fine, more food produced with less low-paid, backbreaking work — but only in a share-and-share-alike society that provides enough for everybody and asks only for the input necessary to produce it, and not in a capitalist oligarchy that simply casts aside unused workers.

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