Light Up The Night

Light Up The Night

Seeking to heed that age-old business adage, “The customer is always right,” Mark Houser had long considered employing light towers to harvest winegrapes at night. Vintners prefer cooler grapes, particularly those going into white wines, and fruit is at its coolest just before sunrise, noted Houser, the vineyard manager at Hoot Owl Creek Vineyards/Alexander Valley Vineyards, in Healdsburg, CA.

“We started seeing other people more and more using lights for harvest because the wineries like that cool fruit,” he says. “So we built the light towers.”

Three years ago, Houser, his foreman Isaul Macias, and his shop supervisor Mike Davis constructed three towers outfitted with fluorescent lights. They worked well, so well that this past year the three men decided to upgrade one tower with LED lights, which are about 30% brighter. For this year’s harvest all the towers will have LED lights.

“They’re more durable than fluorescent lights and they provide much better quality light,” he says. “They cost a lot more, but they’re worth it because the difference is just remarkable.”

Beating The Heat

A lot of growers are considering night harvest not only to provide wineries with cooler fruit, but because regulators are really cracking down on heat-related health problems among agricultural workers. The issue really came to a head two years ago in California when a 17-year-old pregnant girl died after picking grapes in 95-degree heat in the San Joaquin Valley. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger attended her funeral and promised to do more to protect workers.

This past spring representatives from a state agency charged with nailing unscrupulous employers held seminars aimed at preparing growers for enforcement inspections. The coalition is made up of several agencies including: Cal/OSHA; Employment Development Department; the Labor Commissioner’s Office; and the Contractors State License Board. The coalition has cracked down on agriculture and other industries for a variety of violations, but they’ve emphasized the state’s heat illness prevention rules for employees who work outdoors.

Growers in such hot spots as the Central Valley might want to consider night harvesting. Asked what he would tell a grower considering the change, Houser responded immediately: “Once you do it, you’ll say ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?’”

Win/Win/Win Situation

Houser is quick to note that beating the heat was only part of the equation for him, as he farms on the North Coast, which generally doesn’t get nearly as hot as the Central Valley. However, it’s certainly a tangible benefit. “Make everybody safe, that’s my first consideration, safety first,” he says. “Besides, these people work hard, and any time you can make it easier for them, you do it.”

In addition to working in the cool of the night, workers like picking in the dark — they usually start at 2 a.m., but will begin at midnight if there’s a lot of fruit to harvest — because they’re more efficient. “It’s easier to pick because the stems are stiffer and you can go faster than when it’s warmer and the stems get pliable, rubbery,” he says. “That applies to leaf-pulling and suckering too. It’s even true for machines — the mechanical leaf-puller doesn’t work as well in the afternoon.”

Houser says about half of their acreage is now machine-picked, and they use the lights on both mechanically harvested and hand-picked blocks. The towers can’t be used in all areas. For example, they don’t work well on terraced hillsides. He estimates that they harvested close to 30% of their fruit at night last year, or about 400 tons of the grapes they harvested.

The towers aren’t cheap to make, about $4,000 each including all materials and labor. But Houser said they are easily worth it when harvesting such pricey fruit so much more efficiently. And he’s not the only one who benefits. “Everybody wins,” he says. “The guys win because they make more money piece rate, and the wineries always want winegrapes cool, white grapes especially.”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Light Up The Night

  1. Hello,

    June 2010 issue of the journal article on Light Up The Night of the photo (enlarge) you send us
    Please,

    Thanks,
    Best regards

    m. batal
    Istanbul/Turkey

    Note: Photo very important

  2. Hello,

    June 2010 issue of the journal article on Light Up The Night of the photo (enlarge) you send us
    Please,

    Thanks,
    Best regards

    m. batal
    Istanbul/Turkey

    Note: Photo very important

Featured Stories

Farm ManagementBill Gates Uploading Lots Of Florida Farmland
October 22, 2014
Recent acquisition for the Microsoft icon involves more than 4,500 acres for nearly $28 million. Read More
GenNext GrowersRegister Now For The GenNext Growers Webcast
October 22, 2014
In the first installment of the GenNext Webcast Series, you will learn how to engage with lawmakers and ag associations to help shape a better future for your business and for agriculture. Read More
FruitsAnnual Santa Maria Strawberry Meeting Approaching
October 22, 2014
The meeting will focus on IPM practices, weed management, updates on fumigation, and more. Read More
Apples & PearsUSApple’s AppletizeMe Personality Quiz Help Consumers Find Ideal Apple Varieties and Perfect Food Pairings
October 22, 2014
Award-winning national apple month campaign returns with more featured varieties and informative videos. Read More
Farm ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million To Stimulate Research And Development Innovation
October 22, 2014
The grants will provide resources to help small operations create breakthroughs, says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read More
CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusMcCrometer Introduces New Ag Management Mobile App
October 22, 2014
The app displays data on weather, ET, soil moisture, water flow, and more. Read More
Apples & PearsNew York Apple Growers Partner With Grocer To Introduce SnapDragon Apples
October 22, 2014
First apples of this new variety to hit Wegmans stores as part of a marketing effort. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Conservation Impacts On Water Quality
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
Stone FruitIntroducing A Gem Of A Peach For Central Florida
October 22, 2014
The newest variety to come from the UF Stone Fruit Breeding Program is another “gem,” UFGem! This peach variety is Read More

The Latest

Farm ManagementBill Gates Uploading Lots Of Florida Farmland
October 22, 2014
Recent acquisition for the Microsoft icon involves more than 4,500 acres for nearly $28 million. Read More
GenNext GrowersRegister Now For The GenNext Growers Webcast
October 22, 2014
In the first installment of the GenNext Webcast Series, you will learn how to engage with lawmakers and ag associations to help shape a better future for your business and for agriculture. Read More
FruitsAnnual Santa Maria Strawberry Meeting Approaching
October 22, 2014
The meeting will focus on IPM practices, weed management, updates on fumigation, and more. Read More
Apples & PearsUSApple’s AppletizeMe Personality Quiz Help Consumers…
October 22, 2014
Award-winning national apple month campaign returns with more featured varieties and informative videos. Read More
Farm ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million To Stimulate Research And Devel…
October 22, 2014
The grants will provide resources to help small operations create breakthroughs, says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read More
CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusMcCrometer Introduces New Ag Management Mobile App
October 22, 2014
The app displays data on weather, ET, soil moisture, water flow, and more. Read More
Apples & PearsNew York Apple Growers Partner With Grocer To Introduce…
October 22, 2014
First apples of this new variety to hit Wegmans stores as part of a marketing effort. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Co…
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
Stone FruitIntroducing A Gem Of A Peach For Central Florida
October 22, 2014
The newest variety to come from the UF Stone Fruit Breeding Program is another “gem,” UFGem! This peach variety is Read More
CitrusIt’s Time For Young Farming Leaders To Engage [Op…
October 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says there are capable and talented youths in the ag field ready to step up and take the reins. Read More
Farm ManagementResearchers Finding Biofuel Fits For Florida
October 21, 2014
Alternative crops identified that are suited for the state's climate and can easily be processed for power. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produ…
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
FruitsCalifornia Department Of Food And Agriculture Awards $3…
October 21, 2014
State Water Efficiency And Enhancement Program highlights projects implement irrigation systems that reduce water and energy use. Read More
FruitsWashington State University Researchers See How Plants …
October 21, 2014
Results could lead to development of crops that recover from sun damage more easily. Read More
CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fi…
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
Apples & PearsInvasive Pest Found First Time In U.S. At Border Crossi…
October 20, 2014
Moth known to feed on apples, apple buds, leaves, and shoots, is found in a container full of pump valves originating in China. Read More
More Vegetables6 Savory Tomato And Pepper Varieties For Florida Grower…
October 20, 2014
Leading vegetable seed companies highlight a half dozen high-performance selections for producers in the Sunshine State. Read More