Water And Labor Shortages Continue To Distress California Growers

Every year there are challenges to vegetable crop production in the coastal production district of California, but 2014 provided some particularly difficult issues for growers to address. Two essential elements to vegetable production — water and labor — are both in short supply. Either one of these challenges would be enough to disrupt a vegetable production operation, so dealing with both issues at once is taxing growers to the max.

The number of acres utilizing drip irrigation has risen from 14% in 2002 to 58% in 2012. Photos courtesy of Richard Smith.
The number of acres utilizing drip irrigation has risen from 14% in 2002 to 58% in 2012. Photos courtesy of Richard Smith.

This is the third dry year on the Central Coast and the reservoirs that meter water into the Salinas Valley are exceptionally low and will not be able to replenish the ground water resources for the entire season. Growers are adjusting to the lower levels of available irrigation water by irrigating more efficiently. The number of acres utilizing drip irrigation has risen from 14% in 2002 to 58% in 2012.

In the early years, drip use in vegetables was primarily for crops such as pepper and lettuce; however, growers are expanding that crop list to include others, like onions and broccoli. The adoption of more efficient irrigation technologies will go a long way to improve the situation with tight water supplies. However, we’re going to need a good wet year to help refill the reservoirs and groundwater supplies. Everyone is anxiously watching the news of a predicted El Niño for the 2014-15 rainy season and any increase in rainfall it may bring.

Technology And Labor Shortage
The other constraint growers face is a shortage of labor. The availability of labor is a serious issue that affects growers in two ways: They have more trouble getting key jobs done in a timely fashion and it has generally increased costs as labor moves from the lower pay-scale duties, such as thinning lettuce, to higher pay-scale duties. Fortunately technology is now becoming available to help growers manage this situation.

For example, four companies began offering automated thinning machines in 2013, and initial evaluations were conducted by growers. In 2014, growers are continuing the evaluation process; however, some have already reported they are satisfied with the results, and are using the machines to thin a growing percentage of their acreage.

As the sophistication and capability of technology continues to advance, additional machines will be developed to address other production issues and help reduce labor shortages. For instance, in Europe several companies are producing machines that can remove weeds from within the seedline of transplanted crops. These weeders use machine vision and computers to activate blades that remove weeds.

The speed and reliability of these machines has improved a great deal over the past six to seven years. These units are not in the U.S. yet, but as pressure increases on growers to address labor issues, technologies like this may become more important.

Finger-weeders can reduce weeds in the seedline and reduce or eliminate subsequent hand weeding.
Finger-weeders can reduce weeds in the seedline and reduce or eliminate subsequent hand weeding.

Low-Tech Options
In addition to the high-tech machinery, there are lower-tech ideas such as the use of finger weeders to help reduce weeds in the seedline and reduce or eliminate the need for hand-weeding operations. A YouTube video we put together discusses the efficiency of these implements for organic growers: http://bit.ly/1jZTvUq.

There is now a U.S.-based distributor for the European-style finger weeders, Washington Tractor (www.washingtontractor.com), which can facilitate access to this technology.  

Mechanical Lettuce Harvesters
Mechanical harvesters for lettuce are another example of technology helping growers address labor needs. Mechanical harvesting has been the subject of extensive conversation for many years, but only in the last couple of years has this technology emerged as a viable alternative for growers.

The current harvesters are only used for bulk lettuce grown for the salad plants and not for market lettuce. However, it is encouraging to watch this technology emerge and to see how far it will develop over the coming years.

In general, labor shortages are likely to persist in the short-term, however, the development of techno-
logy and machinery that can assist growers in coping with this issue has been very welcome.

Topics: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Production Stories
Yanmar-UTV
Equipment
August 11, 2016
New UTV To Hit The Market In January 2017
Yanmar enters the UTV market with two designs of its Bull Series. Read More
four spinach varieties in a bin
Leafy Vegetables
August 8, 2016
Researchers Find Cold Weather Makes For Tastier High Tunnel-Produced Spinach
New Hampshire scientists conducted a two-year winter trial to determine the best spinach varieties and planting dates for production in unheated high-tunnels. Read More
honeybees
Fruits
August 6, 2016
Save The Pollinators [Opinion]
Bees need to be protected as these beneficial, pollinating insects have an important job: They help increase yields of both fruits and vegetables. Read More
Researchers plan to identify soil test critical levels for nitrogen and potassium, and calibrate common soil tests under high tunnel conditions to determine appropriate methods for predicting nutrient availability for different varieties of tomatoes, demonstrate the benefit of plants to increase biodiversity, and reduce pest problems. Photo credit: Lori Wright/NHAES
Production
August 2, 2016
SARE Grant Expands Tomato Research In High Tunnels
Researchers in New Hampshire receive grant to expand research for tomato nutrient and pest management in high tunnels. Read More
precision ag vision conference
Citrus
July 27, 2016
Ag Tech Is Hot On Horticulture; Get A Handle On What This Means For You
As evidenced by the recent AgTech Summit hosted by Forbes magazine in Salinas, CA, action in precision farming and the Read More
These wildflowers, planted near a California almond orchard, can be extremely effective in aiding pollinators. (Photo credit: Katharina Ullmann, Xerces Society)
Production
July 27, 2016
Survey: Fruit And Vegetable Growers Support Pollinators
Most of the berry, almond, melon, pumpkin, and tree fruit growers surveyed are being careful about how they manage their farms to minimize pesticide impacts and improve bees’ habitats. Read More
Bee Sperm - Washington State University Cryo Lab (Photo credit: WSU)
Production
July 26, 2016
Importing Frozen Honeybee Sperm Is Key To Conservation
The Washington State University (WSU) bee program has worked with researchers from around the world to create more honeybee genetic repositories like the one at WSU. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
August 6, 2016
Save The Pollinators [Opinion]
Bees need to be protected as these beneficial, pollinating insects have an important job: They help increase yields of both fruits and vegetables. Read More
Production
August 2, 2016
SARE Grant Expands Tomato Research In Hi…
Researchers in New Hampshire receive grant to expand research for tomato nutrient and pest management in high tunnels. Read More
Citrus
July 27, 2016
Ag Tech Is Hot On Horticulture; Get A Ha…
As evidenced by the recent AgTech Summit hosted by Forbes magazine in Salinas, CA, action in precision farming and the Read More
Production
July 27, 2016
Survey: Fruit And Vegetable Growers Supp…
Most of the berry, almond, melon, pumpkin, and tree fruit growers surveyed are being careful about how they manage their farms to minimize pesticide impacts and improve bees’ habitats. Read More
Production
July 26, 2016
Importing Frozen Honeybee Sperm Is Key T…
The Washington State University (WSU) bee program has worked with researchers from around the world to create more honeybee genetic repositories like the one at WSU. Read More
Berries
July 12, 2016
Automated Strawberry Picker: One Step Cl…
Company receives U.S. Patent approval for continuous picking wheel on the machine. Read More
Fruits
July 7, 2016
New Video Highlights Benefits Of Plantin…
It’s becoming clear that one effective method is to plant wildflowers at field edges. Read More
Crop Protection
July 6, 2016
Abiotic Issues Affect Vegetable Producti…
Although most issues you face are biotic, abiotic issues can greatly impact vegetable crop yield and quality. Read More
Equipment
July 6, 2016
Options In Harvest Mechanization For Veg…
Depending on your goals, labor-saving devices are available to just about any grower, big or small. Two growers and an equipment manufacturer discuss the kinds of things you can do — and what it will mean for your production. Read More
Citrus
July 5, 2016
Citrus, Pistachio Researchers Named Firs…
Extension advisors named University of California Cooperative Extension Presidential Chairs to study pistachio production systems. Read More
Fruits
June 28, 2016
Bees May Accidentally Bring Varroa Mites…
A USDA research team is learning that mite populations often spike in the fall, due to migration into the hives. Read More
Equipment
June 17, 2016
New Tractor For The Small Grower On The …
New business venture's goal is to meet the needs of those producing on a limited number of acres. Read More
Fruits
June 10, 2016
5 Components To Help Streamline The Irri…
Check out details on some of the latest products to help you achieve efficiencies in your irrigation system. Read More
Irrigation
June 8, 2016
How To Use Irrigation Water Wisely For Y…
Experts from both coasts share advice on ways to save this precious resource on the farm, including drip tape management and increasing organic matter. Read More
Irrigation
June 6, 2016
How To Maximize Water Efficiency On Your…
Growers from both East and West reveal how they get the most from their water supply – and save money. Read More
Fruits
June 4, 2016
Small Farmers To Gather In Fall
Meeting will address the challenges small farmers face and their vital role in American agriculture. Read More
Fruits
May 25, 2016
Farm Bureau Says EPA, Army Corps Of Engi…
AFBF told Congress that the Army Corps' novel interpretations of environmental law are threatening farmers in California and other areas of the country. Read More
Citrus
May 17, 2016
$130 Million In Funds For Fruit And Vege…
USDA allocates funds for Extension, organic production, food safety, and technology grants. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]