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
Equipment
April 4, 2017
What’s New in Tractors for Vegetable Growers?
Take a look at these new models and retrofit opitons ideal for specialty crop growing. Read More
Citrus
March 31, 2017
Latest Snowpack Report is Welcomed News for California Farmers
March reading shows 164% of historical average. Read More
Fruits
March 29, 2017
Water Allocations in California Deemed Unfair
Tom Nassif of Western Growers objects to a recent announcement that some in California’s Central Valley received only a 65% initial water allocation, while other growers in the region received 100%. Read More
Irrigation
March 26, 2017
Tips to Maximize Water Efficiency in Your Almond Grove
Editor’s note: Spencer Cooper joined the Almond Board of California last fall as Senior Manager, Irrigation and Water Efficiency. Western Read More
honeybees
Citrus
March 25, 2017
New Videos Offer Tips on Planting Pollinator Habitats
A new video series on planting flowering habitats is designed to help growers support crop pollinators. Read More
Freeze protected blueberry bushes in Florida
Berries
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from Late-Season Cold Snap
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Business Planning
March 22, 2017
How HortTech Is Solving Grower Challenges
Dozens of tech companies are looking for solutions to real-world problems vegetable growers face. We take a look at what it could really mean for you and your business. Read More
Production
March 22, 2017
Weighing the Good and Bad of Six Soilless Media Options
Trying to decide which growing media is the right one for your greenhouse vegetable production? Take a look at these six options. Read More
Freeze protected peach trees in Florida
Cold Protection
March 21, 2017
Freezing Temperatures Hit South Carolina Crops Hard
Peaches, blueberries, and strawberries among crops damaged. Read More
Frozen blueberries
Berries
March 15, 2017
Arctic Blast Gives Southern Fruit Growers the Chills
Peaches and berries in bloom most at risk from freezing temperatures. Read More
Crop Protection
March 11, 2017
How to Stop Plant Diseases Before They Grab Hold
These smart strategies play off the science behind infestations, instead of merely treating symptoms. Read More
Leafy Vegetables
March 8, 2017
The Dos and Don’ts of Growing Greenhouse Vegetables
Thinking of adding growing vegetables under cover? Here are a few things you need to consider first. Read More
Banding dry fertilizer on a potato field
Citrus
March 7, 2017
The Andersons Divests Florida Farm Center Locations
Local, family owned custom blend fertilizer company taking over assets and product distribution responsibilities. Read More
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
Berries
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agriculture
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
Berries
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Berries
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
The Latest
Berries
April 6, 2017
Study Shows Bumblebees Can Boost Blueber…
UF/IFAS researchers find placing hives of the distinct pollinator in the field pumps up output by 70%. Read More
Equipment
April 4, 2017
What’s New in Tractors for Vegetab…
Take a look at these new models and retrofit opitons ideal for specialty crop growing. Read More
Citrus
March 31, 2017
Latest Snowpack Report is Welcomed News …
March reading shows 164% of historical average. Read More
Fruits
March 29, 2017
Water Allocations in California Deemed U…
Tom Nassif of Western Growers objects to a recent announcement that some in California’s Central Valley received only a 65% initial water allocation, while other growers in the region received 100%. Read More
Citrus
March 25, 2017
New Videos Offer Tips on Planting Pollin…
A new video series on planting flowering habitats is designed to help growers support crop pollinators. Read More
Business Planning
March 22, 2017
How HortTech Is Solving Grower Challenge…
Dozens of tech companies are looking for solutions to real-world problems vegetable growers face. We take a look at what it could really mean for you and your business. Read More
Production
March 22, 2017
Weighing the Good and Bad of Six Soilles…
Trying to decide which growing media is the right one for your greenhouse vegetable production? Take a look at these six options. Read More
Crop Protection
March 11, 2017
How to Stop Plant Diseases Before They G…
These smart strategies play off the science behind infestations, instead of merely treating symptoms. Read More
Leafy Vegetables
March 8, 2017
The Dos and Don’ts of Growing Greenhouse…
Thinking of adding growing vegetables under cover? Here are a few things you need to consider first. Read More
Berries
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agr…
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
Berries
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Ber…
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
Crop Protection
March 2, 2017
Soil Health is Much More than Nutrient L…
Researchers say the more you know the better when it comes to your soil health and boosting your production. Read More
Production
March 1, 2017
Iran Is Moving All Vegetable Growing Int…
Iran will be converting all its vegetable farms to greenhouses within 10 years, The Financial Tribune reports. Its agriculture minister Read More
Fruits
February 17, 2017
Are Drones the Future of Pollination?
Researchers in Japan have turned drones into robot bees as artificial pollinators. Read More
Nuts
February 11, 2017
Beehive Thefts on the Rise
More than 2,000 hives were reported stolen last year from California almond orchards, and growers are cautioned to keep an eye out for unmarked hives. Read More
Citrus
February 5, 2017
New Product Helps Bees Brush Off Mites
A British company developed Bee Gym, distributed by Vita Ltd. Read More
Irrigation
January 31, 2017
Use Water Pressure to Get More from Your…
Pressure management is key to successfully operating drip systems because getting the pressure right will assure that you are getting the water right. Read More
Equipment
January 30, 2017
The Latest Developments in Sprayer Tech…
Cornell University’s Andrew Landers offers details on the latest advancements in sprayers, tips to reduce drift, and how to choose the proper nozzle. Read More