Moving To Mechanization

Moving To Mechanization

Concern over that potential labor shortage has led Pearmine and his brother, Larry, in recent years to think of ways they could mechanize more of their operation, lessening their reliance on seasonal labor. (Another factor was Ron’s belief that mechanizing harvest was simply the right thing to do. See “Mechanization Is More Sustainable.”) The Pearmines were inspired in part by the efforts of a grower/neighbor, Del Haener, who had converted a machine used on Brussels sprouts to a cauliflower harvester.

“I don’t want to say it was our idea, as we basically copied Del’s machine,” says an unassuming Ron Pearmine. “Like all ideas, it was just sort of floating around, and we grabbed a piece.”

Trials Encouraging

Pearmine set up some initial small trial plots for the 2008 growing season. He had built a unit that was originally intended for cauliflower and set about modifying it to harvest broccoli. He estimates that the total cost of materials was about $30,000. “There was a lot of labor, though,” he says. “A lot of welding, cutting — not to mention standing around thinking.”

The trials that year went well. Buoyed by his success, Pearmine planted some much larger plots this past season that would provide some “real-world” insight into the success of the system. Initially, he was quite pleased at how it was going, thinking that two people operating the unit might well be able to replace the regular nine-man crews who ordinarily harvest the broccoli fields by hand.

“I was optimistic then; I hadn’t accounted for all the trash,” he said recently. “We had to slow down a bunch to get the leaves out, and then the two guys still spent hours cleaning the product.”

Baby Steps

The trial was far from a total failure, however. Pearmine ran the numbers and found that with the harvester, a two-man crew could harvest about 15,000 pounds of broccoli a day. A nine-man hand crew, meanwhile, can harvest about 50,000 pounds a day. That means that on a per-person basis, it was 7,500 pounds with the machine, and 5,500 pounds by hand. “It’s discouraging,” says Pearmine, “I thought the numbers would be a lot better.”

Pearmine Farms At A Glance

Location: Gervais, OR
Employees: Seven full-time, 20 part-time/seasonal
Total Vegetable Acreage: Approximately 550, all for processing. Also raises grass seed, wheat, and clover.
Acreage Breakdown:
225 – Sweet Corn
125 – Green Beans
110 – Broccoli
85 – Cauliflower

But it’s a start, and Pearmine has learned a lot of valuable lessons. First, and most obviously, he’s got to overcome the problem with all the waste material. He believes that there might be a way to install a cleaning system, possibly involving the use of fans that might work. In fact, properly engineered, such a system might mean that just a single person could operate the harvester.

Another problem that must be solved is that the yields of the machine-harvested fields weren’t as high as the hand-harvested fields. That’s partly
because the machine simply cuts at a certain height, without regard to the height of the plant itself. A person obviously can cut to a height of whatever’s necessary. “But we’re still in the experimental phase,” says a still-optimistic Pearmine, “not developmental.”

Horticultural Answers

Part of the reason for Pearmine’s optimism lies in the fact that he believes some of these obstacles can be overcome not necessarily by adapting the machine, but by adapting the product. Developing new varieties of broccoli that are more machine-friendly would go a long way to solving his problems.

For example, a variety that matures uniformly would be most welcome because all the plants would be cut at just the right size. But the chief variety Pearmine grows — for Norpac Foods, Inc., which selects the varieties — does not come close to maturing uniformly. Ordinarily, a hand crew has to go through three separate times over 10 days to harvest the entire field.

Pearmine says what he needs is a variety that matures uniformly, while retaining the attributes that both he and Norpac desire, such as climactic suitability, great flavor and shape, etc. “We haven’t found one yet,” he says, “but even if we could only find a system for getting the leaves out, we would go mechanical.”

And that leads back to the machine itself. While conceding he is less optimistic than he was last summer, and that it will take some real perseverance to continue, Pearmine doesn’t sound like a man who’s giving up any time soon. After all, when the going gets tough, the tough take a road trip. Seriously, Pearmine says he’s going to go look at some machines in Europe to get some ideas.

“Rather than build all this stuff from scratch, I thought, ‘Let’s take a trip to France,'” he says of his plans for the future. “The short answer is ‘We’re not finished working on it.'”

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Moving To Mechanization

  1. Tell Mr Pearmine to look at mechanical tobacco topping machines that blow the leaves down just before cutting the tops out.

Featured Stories
Citrus
July 26, 2017
Despite Controversy, Most Major Ag Groups Support Sam Clovis’ USDA Nomination
Most of the major agricultural associations are coming out in support of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis to Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
If We Want American Farm Workers, We Have to Offer Even More [Opinion]
Now is the time to lobby for ways to attract American labor. One idea? Offer college tuition and student loan forgiveness in exchange for farm work. Read More
Apples & Pears
July 25, 2017
Tips to Transition to an Apple Fruiting Wall System
Follow these suggestions to make the move from a 3-D spindle-shaped canopy to a 2-D system using mechanical pruning. Read More
Diamondback-Moth-adult-Stormy-Sparks
Crop Protection
July 25, 2017
Vegetable Field Scouting Guide: Diamondback Moth
Due diligence is needed to help take down this pest of biblical proportions. Read More
Disease Control
July 25, 2017
Brown Rot Sinks its Teeth into Michigan Cherries
Unseasonably wet weather causes outbreak, and growers are warned it can spread to peaches. Read More
Fruits
July 25, 2017
Michigan’s a Hit with Tree Fruit Growers
International Fruit Tree Association’s annual summer tour draws nearly 250 attendees. Read More
Farm Management
July 25, 2017
Grants Allocated to Tackle Changing Climate in Fruit, Vegetable Production
Projects designed to develop new approaches to mitigate effects of changing growing environment. Read More
Farm Management
July 24, 2017
American Farm Bureau Weighs in for Grower in Clean Water Act Suit
John Duarte, the owner of Duarte Nursery, one of the largest grapevine and nut tree suppliers on the West Coast, recently gained Read More
Disease Control
July 24, 2017
Researchers Find Detection Method for Crown Gall Disease
Oregon State University researchers developed molecular tools to work with commercially available kits that allow the user to quickly and effectively test plants for the disease, using a dipstick that reveals the presence of the pathogen within minutes. Read More
Vegetables
July 24, 2017
23 Of The Latest Pumpkin Varieties
Browse this slideshow for more details on 23 pumpkin varieties you need to know about from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Beneficial Insect Research
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Citrus
July 22, 2017
Representative from Washington Proposes Amendment to H-2A Program
Move broadens use of H-2A to all of agriculture to include those with multiple crops and harvests. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
July 21, 2017
University of California Launches Website to Update Growers on Citrus Research
Easy-to-read format designed to give growers up-to-date information on huanglongbing and Asian citrus psyllid research. Read More
Hurricane Matthew satellite image as it brushed past Florida
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a Notch
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Sunset on Florida potato field day
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Places for Growing Produce
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
July 26, 2017
Despite Controversy, Most Major Ag Group…
Most of the major agricultural associations are coming out in support of President Donald Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis to Read More
Citrus
July 26, 2017
If We Want American Farm Workers, We Hav…
Now is the time to lobby for ways to attract American labor. One idea? Offer college tuition and student loan forgiveness in exchange for farm work. Read More
Apples & Pears
July 25, 2017
Tips to Transition to an Apple Fruiting …
Follow these suggestions to make the move from a 3-D spindle-shaped canopy to a 2-D system using mechanical pruning. Read More
Crop Protection
July 25, 2017
Vegetable Field Scouting Guide: Diamondb…
Due diligence is needed to help take down this pest of biblical proportions. Read More
Disease Control
July 25, 2017
Brown Rot Sinks its Teeth into Michigan …
Unseasonably wet weather causes outbreak, and growers are warned it can spread to peaches. Read More
Fruits
July 25, 2017
Michigan’s a Hit with Tree Fruit Growers
International Fruit Tree Association’s annual summer tour draws nearly 250 attendees. Read More
Farm Management
July 25, 2017
Grants Allocated to Tackle Changing Clim…
Projects designed to develop new approaches to mitigate effects of changing growing environment. Read More
Farm Management
July 24, 2017
American Farm Bureau Weighs in for Growe…
John Duarte, the owner of Duarte Nursery, one of the largest grapevine and nut tree suppliers on the West Coast, recently gained Read More
Disease Control
July 24, 2017
Researchers Find Detection Method for Cr…
Oregon State University researchers developed molecular tools to work with commercially available kits that allow the user to quickly and effectively test plants for the disease, using a dipstick that reveals the presence of the pathogen within minutes. Read More
Vegetables
July 24, 2017
23 Of The Latest Pumpkin Varieties
Browse this slideshow for more details on 23 pumpkin varieties you need to know about from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
Citrus
July 23, 2017
USDA Invests $7.6 Million toward Benefic…
Projects to promote beneficial organisms as part of a pest control strategy. Read More
Citrus
July 22, 2017
Representative from Washington Proposes …
Move broadens use of H-2A to all of agriculture to include those with multiple crops and harvests. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
July 21, 2017
University of California Launches Websit…
Easy-to-read format designed to give growers up-to-date information on huanglongbing and Asian citrus psyllid research. Read More
Citrus
July 20, 2017
Atlantic Hurricane Forecast Taken Up a N…
Current conditions in the tropics warrant marked revision in potential storm season scenarios. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Researchers On a Mission to Find More Pl…
Federal grant to aid exploration of food security solutions for the future. Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Farm Labor Stories Making the News This …
The agricultural labor shortage is strong enough that the consumer press is beginning to report on it regularly. Here are the stories making headlines this month. Read More
Sweet Corn
July 19, 2017
Variety Specs | Production Tips: Corn &#…
Each month, American Vegetable Grower® will offer growing tips on specific varieties, supplied by the breeder or distributor. This month, we’re offering Read More
Citrus
July 19, 2017
Florida Grower Magazine is Seeking Your …
Life hacks are common in social media threads these days. They are those clever ideas or tricks aimed at making Read More