Greenhouse Product News

Big Grower November 2021

The business magazine for commercial growers

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NOVEMBER 2021 3 COVER STO RY AppHarvest is developing harvesting robots to pick tomatoes in its 60-acre greenhouse operation, along with computer vision and data collection to increase production efficiencies, quality and yields. BY DAVID KUACK A ppHarvest began harvesting tomatoes out of its new 60-acre greenhouse operation in Morehead, Kentucky, in January. The company is expected to harvest about 40 million pounds of tomatoes annually from this facility. The greenhouses contain about 720,000 tomato plants, consisting of a mix of beefsteak and tomatoes-on- the-vine. The company is also expanding its controlled environment food production in the state with a 15-acre facility in Berea, Kentucky, which will produce leafy greens, and a 60-acre facility outside Richmond, Kentucky, which is expected to grow tomatoes. INCORPORATING AI, ROBOT HARVESTERS In April, AppHarvest acquired Root AI, an artificial intelligence startup that designs intelligent robots for use in high-tech indoor farms. With this acquisition came Root AI's robotic universal harvester, Virgo. Root AI co-founder and CEO Josh Lessing has become chief technology officer at AppHarvest. "I have a two-fold role with AppHarvest," Lessing says. "My major role is to run TechCo, which will contain AppHarvest's key technologies including proprietary FarmOps, robotic harvesting capability and AI/ machine learning for growing. TechCo also has the potential to develop a new revenue stream through licensing of CEA technology to global operators." He says TechCo is a subsidiary of AppHarvest that is focused on new technology for greenhouses. "We are very committed to CEA and see a bright future in expanding its capabilities. My team is focused predominantly on enterprise software, artificial intelligence and robotics to drive new kinds of efficiencies. The other part of my role is more broadly the technical operations manager for the broader farming company." Lessing says one of the biggest reasons to incorporate robots into controlled environment production operations is resilience. "Harvesting is a very time-sensitive activity," he says. "If a grower misses the moment of harvest, then all the effort and expense that has Incorporating a harvesting robot as a supplement to the people working in a greenhouse can help guarantee the harvests are completed in a timely manner. (Photos: AppHarvest) IMPROVING Controlled Environment Food Growing Operations

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