Does the future of the landscaping industry lie in robotics?

Fred Haskett w Scythe Mower
Landscape veteran Fred Haskett says that robotics will continue to change the Green Industry in a variety of ways.
Scythe Robotics

We already live in a robotic world with robots used for manufacturing, surgery, communications, and even various aspects of our everyday life. So, it’s not really that big of a surprise that robots are now revolutionizing lawn and landscaping. It’s something that Green Industry veteran Fred Haskett, Head Harvester with The Harvest Group, has been talking about for years. He currently serves as the industry consultant for Scythe Robotics—and he has a few strong theories about what the future will look like.

Robotic mowers are part of it—but that’s just the beginning.

Of course, robotic mowers are already here. According to Haskett, mowers were the key entry level technology that the industry needed. With the labor crisis showing no sign of easing up, being able to have robotic mowers handle the turf—while the rest of the crews handle more delicate finishing work like edging, mulching, and pruning—will be incredibly useful to a lot of companies.

But Haskett sees autonomous mowing as just the start of a robotics revolution.

“I think down the road we’ll see the emergence of robotic technology on the tree care side,” he says. “We’ll be able to see diagnostics and foliar treatments performed by drones. Drones are perfectly suited to be able to spot spray from the tops of trees.”

Haskett says that in time, he believes robots will be able to handle more skilled work, including plant bed care.

“I think after robotic mowing becomes more commonplace, we’ll start to see trimming, edging, blowing, aeration, seeding, fertilization, and even pest control applications handled by robots,” Haskett says. “That’s a way down the road, but I believe we’ll get there.”

Robotics attracting new hires

While Haskett says he knows that there’s a lot of concern surrounding robots replacing jobs, he says it’s actually the opposite. Robotics are needed to fill in major gaps at companies that simply don’t have the labor force they need. But he says that robots will likely also attract new hires.

“In the eyes of Gen Zers, who will be our main labor force for the next 10 to 15 years, we will go from uncool and low tech to cool and high tech thanks to adopting robotics,” he says. “That’s going to drive new interest in our industry. We’ll be hiring not only people who understand horticulture and agronomy—but those who also understand robotics. It’s creating all new job opportunities.”

Hakett says that with so many younger generations being concerned about the environment, a shift toward robotics is also an industry attractor. They’ll appreciate that fully autonomous electric powered robotic equipment will have less impact on the environment.

Taking a giant leap forward

Hakett says that when he started in the industry 47 years ago, a “sod cutter” was him on his knees cutting sod with a nursery spade. He says it’s been amazing to see how far the industry has come. But it’s robotics that will be the biggest leap forward.

“As an industry, we’re in an almost universal labor shortage,” he says. “There is more of a demand for our services than ever and yet we don’t have the labor to fulfill that demand. Robotics is going to change all of that.”

Haskett says that it’s also exciting that the Green Industry could be the one to truly put the robotic revolution on everyone’s radar.

“We are an industry that is ‘seen,’” he explains. “The robots that landscapers will be using are going to be very visible to the general population as they’re out on commercial properties or in peoples’ backyards. We are the industry that could make robotics feel like a ubiquitous thing in this country.”

A bright future

While there are still some steps to take, Haskett says that robots are no longer just a “dream” for Green Industry folks. It’s a reality.

“We are a year or two away from these machines being regularly seen on properties,” he continues. “It’s amazing to think about what things will look like in 10 years. It’s going to be astonishing. I’ve been saying for over 20 years that I would see robotics enter our industry in my lifetime and the time is now here. This will bring so much change for the better. And best of all, nobody will lose a job. Instead, we’ll elevate our industry to a higher level.” 

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