In this era of automation and industrialisation, it is hard to believe that there is no combined harvester for all farm produce. While bulk crops, such as corn and wheat, got their combined harvesters decades ago, there are still lots of crops whose harvest rides on backbreaking or finger-numbing work by hundreds of hard-working employees.

Here is a roundup of the most labour-intensive harvest in the agricultural world so far.

Cherry Picking

Yes, cherries must be picked by hand. Your Hydralada cherry picker is not a machine that will harvest the cherries for you. It’s a lift that will hoist you up so that you can carefully pluck the cherries by hand. Hand picking is mandatory because the picker must choose cherries that are ready and carefully pluck them by the stem without damaging them.

Research is going on to come up with an automated picker to replace the dwindling workforce, but stakeholders believe that the cherry might also have to be genetically engineered to suite automated harvesting.


Asparagus is labour intensive because it has to be harvested daily during its three-month lifespan. The asparagus ears sprout daily and have to be clipped to give room for ears.

The US is working on developing an automated picker, but as of now, the asparagus produce still rests heavily on the dexterity and dedication of human harvesters combing the fields on a daily basis.

Cocoa for Chocolate

Cocoa, the raw ingredient behind your beloved chocolate is quite labor intensive. Cocoa beans grow from the trunks of cocoa trees, and only the ripe pods must be harvested from a plant.

The pods are ripe for picking for around three to four weeks after which they have to be busted open before the beans are extracted. As of now, harvesting is mainly done by hand since the pod has to be carefully cut off without damaging the cocoa tree in any way as it is susceptible to parasitic fungi infection.

Moreover, the fact that the pods never ripen at the same time makes it hard to automate the process since each pod must be individually selected for harvesting when at its prime.


Man harvesting

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world and mainly comes from Iran, Spain, and Italy. Harvesting involves picking saffron crocus flowers very early in the morning and extracting their stigmas the same day.

Stigmas, the tiny strands on the flower, need the dexterity of human hands to extract before they are dried and prepared for use. The sheer labour involved in extracting the stigmas pushes saffron prices to above $85 per ounce.

Even with our technological advancements, there’s still some produce we cannot afford its harvesting to robots without damaging it. Even though agricultural development departments across the world are working hard to find a solution and increase yield in an economical way, it will still take some time before the automation is perfected and embraced worldwide.

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