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WSU hosts workshop on effects of agricultural automation on society

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University hosts “Labor and Automation Effects on Social Sustainability and Resilience in U.S. Agriculture,” a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop taking place on Sept. 7, with a field day on Sept. 8, on and around the WSU Tri‑Cities campus in Richland, Wash.

The workshop in the WSU Tri‑Cities East Auditorium includes speakers from around the country talking about technical innovations in agriculture, the economic impacts of new technology, the social implications of labor-saving technology, and more.

WSU President Kirk Schulz and Wendy Powers, the Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, are among those who will welcome attendees.

A second day event is a field day for members of the academy’s Board on Agricultural and Natural Resources (BANR) featuring tours of a WSU orchard and the university’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in nearby Prosser, Wash. They will also visit a commercial orchard and a vineyard.

“Access to a reliable supply of agricultural labor is one of the biggest challenges facing our food system,” said Jill McCluskey, director of WSU’s School of Economic Sciences and a BANR member. “Automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics could reduce the need for humans to do menial and dangerous work, reward higher skilled employees, and increase the resilience of the supply chain.”

This workshop will discuss the cutting-edge technologies but also the tradeoffs that the industry faces.  

As for the field day, McCluskey said, “It’s also a great opportunity for researchers and people in the agricultural industry to come and learn directly from renowned researchers from across the country who study labor and automation.”

David Zilberman, a National Academies member from UC Berkeley, Leland Glenna from Penn State University, and Dianne Charlton from Montana State University are among the speakers. Two WSU scientists will lead sessions as well: Manoj Karkee from the Department of Biological Systems Engineering will talk about innovations in specialty crop harvesting technologies and Marcos Marcondes from the Department of Animal Sciences will talk about innovations in dairy technologies.

A panel discussion will wrap up the event and features public and private industry experts from around Washington, including WSU Economist Karina Gallardo, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission Executive Director Ines Hanrahan, Equity and Social Justice Consultant Tomás Madrigal, and the Founder and CEO of innov8.ag Steve Mantle.

The public is welcome to attend the first‑day workshop, pre‑registration is optional for in‑person attendance and required for online watching.

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