Young Farmer of the Year Mitchell McNabb and the Use of Robotics
At this year’s Australian Farmer of the Year Awards, Mitchell McNabb was named Young Farmer of the Year. Mr. McNabb is the fifth generation of his family to participate in the horticulture industry as a pear and stone fruit grower. He is the chair of Fruit Growers Victoria.
Mr. McNabb’s family began growing fruit in Ardmona prior to World War I. At the time, his great-grandfather was a geologist who helped people find land on which to grow apples and pears.
- Mitchell McNab was named Young Farmer of the Year at the 2023 Australian Farmer of the Year Awards.
- Mr. McNab is embracing robotics to improve productivity and ease labour shortages.
- Ripe Robotics is developing the “Eve” fruit-picking robot on Mr. McNabb’s farm.
- Robotic innovation is leading the way into the future of horticulture.
Fast forward more than a century, and the latest generation of the family is taking the business forward using robotics. Mr. McNabb’s innovation and commitment led to his name being called when the awards for the 2023 Australian Farmer of the Year Awards were announced at Parliament House in Canberra at an event hosted by Kondinin Group and ABC Rural.
Mr. McNabb returned to the family farm after completing his studies
After he completed his schooling, Mr. McNabb studied for a business degree in Melbourne. His parents were struggling with challenges from the drought and encouraged him to stay away from agriculture. However, he eventually returned to the family business.
Since his return, Mr. McNabb has seen the potential of the industry and the opportunities for young people. He has also been met with challenges such as pricing issues and major hail showers and storms in the Goulburn Valley. During the 2023 growing season, the business lost as much as 40% of its fruit due to damage from hail.
As a result, Mr. McNabb is looking at ways to enter the juice market rather than spoil crops. He has also embraced the use of robotics to address labour challenges and improve productivity.
Robotics is taking the business into the future
After completing a Nuffield Farming Scholarship in 2016, Mitchell McNab reached out to Ripe Robotics. He was keen to progress the family business, and his aim was to offer the orchard for testing and trialling.
The team at Ripe Robotics, under CEO and co-founder Hunter Jay, was keen to take up the opportunity to test its prototype apple-picking robot, known as “Eve.” This robotic harvester picks apples and oranges, and the testing at Mr. McNabb’s property has been critical to its development.
The reason Mr. McNabb first became involved with researching robotics in agriculture was its potential to reduce production costs by reducing expenditure on labour. Labour spending equates to around 60% of overall production expenditure, so reducing it is a major positive for farmers.
This positive effect on spending also allows more farmers to enter the export market, as will the use of artificial intelligence and robotics to promote business growth. For example, the “Eve” robot does far more than just picking apples. It analyses fruit for size, quality, and colour before picking fruit such as peaches, plums, nectarines, and apples using a suction cup.
The work done by the robot, which is now approaching production, will help to address labour shortages, cut costs and make it easier for businesses to grow and begin exporting their produce. Mr. McNabb is a strong supporter of the benefits of robotics in agriculture and believes developments in this area have a significant role to play in the future of the industry.
Dedication and innovation led to Young Farmer of the Year Award
Mr. McNabb has developed a reputation for innovation and dedication to the prosperity of the industry. This reputation was a major factor in his being named Young Farmer of the Year.
The 33-year-old is also heavily involved with the fruit-growing industry in Australia and is chairman of Fruit Growers Victoria Ltd. This respected and inspirational young industry professional will continue to dedicate his time to promoting the survival and sustainability of orchards in Australia.