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
Fruits
February 6, 2017
Organic Trade Association Rallies Support for Research
Group is encouraging consumers to tell USDA they support an organic research and promotion program. 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
Fruits
February 4, 2017
Pests, Diseases in Organic Growing the topic of Washington State University Fruit School
Biology, ecology of organic production the focus of two-day event. Read More
Irrigation
January 31, 2017
Use Water Pressure to Get More from Your Drip Systems
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 Technology for Vegetable Growers
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
Leafy Vegetables
January 30, 2017
The Secret to Expanding Your Acreage? Partners
Uesugi Farms increases 50-fold through smart alliances. Read More
Freeze protected peach trees in Florida
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel to the Extreme for Farmers
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More
The Latest
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
Leafy Vegetables
January 30, 2017
The Secret to Expanding Your Acreage? Pa…
Uesugi Farms increases 50-fold through smart alliances. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel …
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More
Citrus
January 16, 2017
First Bee in Continental U.S. Listed as …
Rusty patched bumble bee receives protection from activities that could cause it to go extinct. Read More
Citrus
January 15, 2017
New Transitional Certification Program t…
The program will be based on standards developed by the Organic Trade Association. Read More
More Vegetables
January 10, 2017
High Tunnel, Greenhouse Vegetable IPM We…
Topics to be covered include production and disease, insect, and weed management tactics. Read More
Production
January 5, 2017
Reduce Soil Compaction for Improved Pla…
Manage through a hard situation by focusing on tillage systems and minimizing field traffic. Read More
Citrus
January 3, 2017
Soil Health Institute Launches Web-Based…
The tool allows users to connect soil health problems, management actions, and desired outcomes with research addressing a user’s particular situation. Read More
Citrus
January 3, 2017
Research Shows Limited Sign of Soil Adap…
Studies indicate that soils will typically respond strongly to increasing temperature by releasing more carbon dioxide. Read More
More Vegetables
November 30, 2016
Keys To Successful Bell Pepper Productio…
Proper water management and pruning strategies can help improve yields. Read More
Production
November 29, 2016
Great Lakes Ag-Tech Business Incubator L…
The incubator leverages one of the U.S.’s most productive agriculture regions to help develop and nurture ag-tech innovations. Read More
Fruits
November 28, 2016
Another Species Of Mite Threatens Honeyb…
Purdue researchers see a sister species of varroa mite developing ability to parasitize honeybees. Read More
Equipment
November 28, 2016
New Video Series To Enhance Safety And E…
Videos cover the science behind key topics and best practice recommendations, which include understanding droplet size and spectrum. Read More
Citrus
November 21, 2016
Bacterial Imbalances Can Be Troublesome …
A recent study reports that bees given fresh pollen or fresh supplements fared better than bees given pollen or supplements that had first been aged for 21 days. Read More