First International Agricultural Robotics Conference in US Set for Fall

Ohad Boaz, left, and Yanir Ariav of Blue White Robotics, an Israeli company that has become active in California permanent crops, did a brief presentation in announcing the FIRA USA event.

Representatives of the International Forum of Agricultural Robotics (FIRA), Western Growers, and the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) this week announced that the first FIRA event to be held in the US is slated for Fresno, CA, in October.

FIRA USA 2022 will bring together specialty crop growers, robot manufacturers, industrials, academics, technologists, startups and investors for three days of problem-solving, decision making, and planning to apply technology to California agriculture. Why Fresno?

Ashley Swearengin, President and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, and a former mayor of the city, put it this way: “This place is the food capital of the nation and, we believe, the world.”

FIRA was first held in France in 2015. European specialty crop growers faced labor shortages well before their US counterparts, causing them to look into robotics.

“In France there is a lot more use of digital agriculture than in the US,” FIRA Co-Director Gwendoline Legrand says.

It’s high time that US specialty crop growers were able to avail themselves of such a conference, Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR Chief Innovation Officer says. Holding the conference in Fresno, a center of specialty agriculture, is perfect for the “cross-pollening” necessary between farming and robotics.

“The future is here,” he says of robots in the field. “These things are here now.”

Walt Duflock, Vice President of Innovation at Western Growers, says 75% of specialty ag robotics companies are running on their own money or what they raise through friends and family. They need additional financial backing to get off the ground.

“All of these companies are very, very early,” he says. “That’s why the conversations (between growers and robotics developers) need to happen.”

FIRA USA 2022 will be held Oct. 18-20. The event will feature field demos and research project presentations on autonomous farming and agricultural robotics solutions, and will provide vital networking time for farmers, robot manufacturers, and scientists. In addition, the event is expected to attract many students and researchers.


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