Labor or Machines

Labor or Machines

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
For farmers, having enough workers to work the fields is a constant issue. For example, weeding is a continual chore.

We remove all the weeds through pre-irrigating and terming weeds, We burn them, we cultivate them and then eventually we have to hand weed them. When you look at a carrot field, a carrot field has about 1.5 million carrots planted on a one acre block. So they're close together. They're about three quarters of an inch apart. Hard to cultivate between them. So you end up using hand labor to remove those.

Jeff Huckabee is the president of California based Grimway Farms, the world's largest grower of carrots. He points out the heavy labor requirements for weeding carrots, especially if they're raised organically.

It's our biggest headache and it's our biggest expense.

He recently spoke on a panel about organic agriculture at USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum.

We also farm 100 percent of the crops ourselves. So farm managers that work directly for me when I was farming, I hired a few more guys that took over. So we don't use outside growers. We control everything within our own staff.

He adds that the ability of the company's workers is enhanced by machinery.

We've got a couple of mechanical weeders now that are helping. They can't get in between the carrots, but they can get as close to them as possible and they also help us thin some of our other items.

And then once the carrots are ready to be harvested, labor is once again an issue, which is where innovation comes in.

So we build these carrot harvesters. They're about three quarters of a million dollars each to build. So they're not cheap. But three guys can harvest 25 tons of carrots in about 20 minutes. And so you've got two guys on the machine and one guy pulling the tractor. And, you know, when you go through the number of acres that we do in a day, it's the only way that you can get that done.

Grimway Farms produces both conventional and organic carrots.

We continue to do more. We've got a radish harvester now. Instead of having to go hand harvest all of those, we're able to now automate this process.

And he highlights another crop that can be very labor intensive to harvest,… green onions.

We do a large amount of green onions and they've been all done by hand in the past. One crew for green onions is 200 people. The slide on the bottom shows a harvester that we helped build and then take and modify that actually takes about six or eight people to do the same work that 200 people will do.

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