As New Zealand’s largest wine-growing region faces a significant worker shortage, new innovation in the tractor sector could prove the difference.
Vineyards in Marlborough now have access to self-driving tractor technology, which allows the tractors to drive themselves around a field, collecting data and doing tasks. It follows a pre-determined route mapped out on a GPS and, according to industry experts, may soon be able to determine grape yield.
"New Zealand is already short on labour workers, so the machines could pick up work that was unable to be done at the moment," said Horticulture New Zealand senior business manager John Seymour. "If you don't have a machine or person to do a job, then you lose productivity. So, here, automation is a plus." Seymour acknowledged that an automated machine could result in redundant human workers, but also said that those workers could be put to work in other areas of the organisation.
He said that most growers don’t know how to compare the cost of labour against the cost of automation due to difficulty in calculating value, but said that with labour costs increasing it will soon be a clear choice.
"Marlborough has an acute job shortage," said Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens. "At the moment there are 50 to 60 jobs permanently available right now, and it's not even harvest season. Any innovation is welcome."