Robots on ‘shrooms

A London-area ag tech firm aims to revolutionize the mushroom harvesting process

A SOUTHWESTERN ONTARIO-BASED robotics company headquartered just east of London wants to upend the mushroom harvesting industry using advanced robotics and is the latest recipient of funding through the federal government’s NGen advanced manufacturing support program.

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) announced $4.2 million in funding for a project led by Putnam-based Mycionics Inc., in partnership with Whitecrest Mushrooms and Piccioni Brothers Mushroom Farm. The project will deploy “advanced robotic solutions to revolutionize the mushroom harvesting processes,” and hopes to demonstrate the commercial viability of the new technology.

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Founded in 2014, Mycionics positions itself as a solution to the “increasing on-farm labour shortage plaguing the global mushroom industry.” In recent years farmers have reported challenges in finding mushroom harvesting labour: between 2017 and 2019, the job vacancy rate on mushroom farms doubled to nearly 20 per cent, according to a study from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

Mycionics says their robotic harvesting technology “will increase the yield of a growing room through a ‘smart graze harvesting’ strategy, picking over a 24-hour period and allowing the system to pick each mushroom at the optimal time instead of being restricted to harvesting only during normal working hours.”

It’s a system capable of picking, packing and weighing mushrooms at a rate of up to 20 kilos per hour, the company claims, promising to “meet or exceed the current rate of manual mushroom harvesting.”

Robots on 'shrooms mushroom Agriculture

Should this system be proven to work, the company says it will be the first time a company has successfully automated the entire mushroom harvesting process — potentially revolutionizing the industry in Southwestern Ontario and beyond.

“Our partnership with NGen will accelerate commercialization of Mycionics patented robotic mushroom harvesting to solve the increasing labour shortage affecting mushroom farms globally,” says Mycionics CEO, Michael Curry. “Mycionics robotics were designed to simply integrate with existing mushroom farm infrastructure commonly used throughout the world.”

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They aren’t without competition on this front, either. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Niagara has also put forward automation technology in the mushroom industry, while on the west coast another firm, Technology Brewing Corporation in B.C., has also been supported by federal and provincial investment dollars. Cumulatively, it’s hoped that this new push to automate the process will lead to new advanced tech jobs in the industry, rather than simply eliminating human jobs.

“If you have a 19 per cent vacancy rate, nobody’s concerned that it will be taking away Canadian jobs,” notes Debra Hauer, a manager at CAHRC, in an interview with Fruit and Vegetable Magazine. “As a matter of fact, those jobs that involve the application of technology in agriculture would likely be those that would be of great interest to Canadians, if they only knew they were there.”

“This project serves to highlight exactly what NGen hopes to achieve through its supercluster project funding,” says Jayson Myers, CEO, NGen. “The Mycionics project brings together multiple partners from different sectors of the economy to develop and build a world-class advanced manufacturing solution. In the process, Mycionics will create jobs, establish a Canadian supply chain for machine parts and assembly, help build out the entire advanced manufacturing ecosystem, and have a lasting and positive impact on Canadians and the economy.”

“This is exactly the type of project we aim to support through the Innovation Superclusters Initiative,” adds François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of innovation, science and industry. “Leading-edge Canadian companies like Mycionics promote Canadian solutions to global problems. This project pushes technological boundaries, develops advanced manufacturing and creates good jobs for Canadians while exporting groundbreaking technology to the world.” Robots on 'shrooms mushroom Agriculture Kieran Delamont

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