Peruvian Onions

Automated Romaine Harvester: Taylor Farms' Water Knife Bot

This isn’t your grandmama’s agricultural revolution. As the world’s food producers look to increase efficiency and decrease labor issues, the tractors and ploughs of yesteryear have made way for a new wave of high tech, labor-saving advancements. And, much to the delight of we who love a little action to go along with our everyday produce harvesting, these ones come equipped with high-powered water knives.

Patented water jet knife technology takes both the yields and shelf-life of leafy greens to ranges that cannot be produced by human hands alone.

Yes, actual water knives. Born from a collaboration between Taylor Farms and harvest tech manufacturer Ramsay Highlander, this Automated Romaine Harvester uses patented water jet knife technology to take both the yields and shelf-life of leafy greens to ranges that cannot be produced by human hands alone.

As one of the foremost companies that come to mind when you think of the modern day AgTech scene in California’s Salinas Valley, Taylor Farms has been implementing robotics and other state-of-the-art technology over the past decade. From increasing harvest efficiency, to alleviating stress from the most labor intensive and repetitive of jobs, Taylor Farms is on a mission to expedite the supply chain while unlocking its employees potential in higher skilled jobs. And the Automated Romaine Harvester is leading the charge.

“Our ‘AgTech’ approach is to innovate solutions to impeding industry challenges, so we can continue to meet our customer’s needs,” Chris Rotticci, the company’s Director of Automated Harvest Equipment, tells me when I ask how the Automated Romaine Harvester fits in with Taylor Farms’ overall strategy in AgTech. “Agriculture has been experiencing a global shift with increased cost and complexity of doing business. Growing and harvesting costs make up about 50 percent of the overhead cost per commodity, so every bit of efficiency in the field helps to remedy labor shortages and minimize overall rising costs.” 

Taylor Farms' Automated Cabbage Harvester

So, how does the Automated Romaine Harvester wield these water knives on its mission to make back-breaking harvests a thing of the past?

With unmatched precision, the harvester rockets out a purified stream of water capable of cutting up to six linear heads of romaine at one time. And then, almost acting as a mobile packing facility, the harvested product is then moved up a conveyer belt to a platform at the top of the harvester, where employees then sort, select, and pack harvested product.

Using these water jet knives, the Harvester can cleanly cut the heads in the field, effectively eliminating the need for harvest employees to cut romaine by hand. Instead of working bent over in the field, crews can comfortably ride on the harvester while inspecting each head, ensuring only the highest quality lettuce is transported from the field to the plant. Not only has this resulted in increased productivity—a nearly doubling of pounds per man hour with a 50 percent crew size reduction—but the automated harvester has also shown improved quality over the traditional romaine harvester.

“It’s about creating a sustainable solution for ten years down the road,” explains Rotticci. “People are not consuming less salad; they’re consuming more, and it’s our job to make sure that product is available.”

“It’s about creating a sustainable solution for ten years down the road.”
–Chris Rotticci

With labor and efficiency remaining top-of-mind for produce companies across the spectrum of our industry, delving into the intricacies of the technology available to us will always be a sound investment into the future. While we give a friendly wave to the agricultural revolutions of the past, the industry’s eyes remain unwavering on the possibilities—and progressive new tech—that the future will certainly hold.