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
New citrus grove in Florida
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Florida Citrus Granted New Incentive To Grow On
A state-backed $5.5 million grove renovation/re-establishment incentive is now available and accepting applications. Read More
Judi Whitson, 2016 Florida Woman of the Year in Agriculture
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Meet Florida’s 2016 Woman Of The Year In Agriculture
Dedication to fostering the state’s farming future defines the latest winner of longtime honor. Read More
University of New Hampshire scientists constructed a linkage map of the seven chromosomes of the diploid Fragaria iinumae, which allows them to fill in a piece of the genetic puzzle about the eight sets of chromosomes of the cultivated strawberry.
Berries
August 24, 2016
Researchers Unravel Genetic Ancestry Of Cultivated Strawberry
A genetic analysis conducted by New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers aims to improve modern cultivation efforts of strawberry growers. Read More
Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Center working in the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the recipient of NPC's 2016-2017 Academic Scholarship.
Potatoes
August 24, 2016
Fifth-Year Doctoral Student Receives NPC’s Scholarship For Potato Research
The National Potato Council (NPC) has announced that Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Read More
2011 WA IFTA Tour
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Production Bus Tours For Your Business [Opinion]
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Crowd protesting GMOs stock image FEATURE
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest the concept of genetic modification. Read More
A subsurface microirrigation system.
(Photo credit: Peter Jacoby)
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise For Vineyards
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Tar spot of corn
Disease Control
August 23, 2016
Florida Sweet Corn Has New Deadly Stalker In Tar Spot
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
sprayer nozzles
Fruits
August 23, 2016
New Insecticides Geared To Give Growers Edge Over Pests
Check out three unique chemistries from several of the industry's leading crop protection suppliers. Read More
Prepping apples for cleaning, waxing, and sorting.
Apple Grower of the Year
August 22, 2016
Apple Crop Forecasts Live On Twitter
You'll be able to get up-to-the-minute reports of not only the various regions of the U.S., but key production regions around the world. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Florida Citrus Granted New Incentive To …
A state-backed $5.5 million grove renovation/re-establishment incentive is now available and accepting applications. Read More
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Meet Florida’s 2016 Woman Of The Year In…
Dedication to fostering the state’s farming future defines the latest winner of longtime honor. Read More
Berries
August 24, 2016
Researchers Unravel Genetic Ancestry Of …
A genetic analysis conducted by New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers aims to improve modern cultivation efforts of strawberry growers. Read More
Potatoes
August 24, 2016
Fifth-Year Doctoral Student Receives NPC…
The National Potato Council (NPC) has announced that Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Read More
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Don’t Underestimate The Value Of P…
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest the concept of genetic modification. Read More
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise…
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Disease Control
August 23, 2016
Florida Sweet Corn Has New Deadly Stalke…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
Fruits
August 23, 2016
New Insecticides Geared To Give Growers …
Check out three unique chemistries from several of the industry's leading crop protection suppliers. Read More
Apple Grower of the Year
August 22, 2016
Apple Crop Forecasts Live On Twitter
You'll be able to get up-to-the-minute reports of not only the various regions of the U.S., but key production regions around the world. Read More
Oranges
August 22, 2016
Major OJ Purchase Promises Relief For Fl…
$30 million planned acquisition from USDA to be used for surplus removal. Read More
Varieties & Rootstocks
August 22, 2016
Florida Citrus Breeders Squeezed For Tim…
The pressure is on to develop a more HLB-tolerant orange. Read More
Pest Control
August 21, 2016
Spotted Wing Drosophila: For Michigan, …
Why the pest can be so much more destructive for Eastern cherry growers might be due to what they’re not farming. Read More
Grapes
August 19, 2016
European Grapevine Moth Eradicated From …
Agricultural officials confirm eradication of invasive pest, lift quarantine restrictions. Read More
Fruits
August 19, 2016
Parts Of New York Now In Extreme Drought
Water deficits starting to cause concern for fire, water shortages in the Empire State. Read More
Citrus
August 19, 2016
Rough Winter In Store For Much Of The U.…
The Old Farmer’s Almanac and its competitor The Farmers’ Almanac predict the 2016-2017 winter will be cold for much of the country. Read More
Citrus
August 18, 2016
Florida Farmer Takes Fresh Approach To G…
New easy-peel, seedless varieties offer market potential. Read More
GenNext Growers
August 18, 2016
USDA Invests $17.8M To Educate Next Gene…
Money will bolster efforts of partner organizations to increase next generation of growers. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]