A Comparative On-farm Study of Root Crop Production and Postharvest Systems for Scaling Up Diversified Vegetable Farms

Progress report for FNC17-1090

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $22,241.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Ten Hens Farm
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dru Montri
Ten Hens farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Ten Hens Farm, started in 2008, is a sustainable farm located in Bath, Michigan, managed by Dru and Adam Montri. Bath is in central Michigan. We farm on the two acres we own and rent an additional 3 acres from our neighbors. We produce a wide variety of vegetables year round using seasonal field production and 6 hoophouses totaling just over 17,000 square feet. We sell on farm, to local farms, at the farmers market, to local grocers, area restaurants and a regional food distributor. Both Dru and Adam bring a high level of qualifications to organizing and managing this project. Dru received a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Michigan State University (MSU), a Master of Science (M.S.) in Horticulture from The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), and a dual degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Horticulture and Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies with a Graduate Specialization in Gender, Justice and Environmental Change from MSU. Adam also received an M.S. in Horticulture from Penn State. Besides farming, Dru is the Executive Director of the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) and Adam is an outreach specialist in MSU’s Department of Horticulture and with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems. We both work with and for farmers all across the state and country and are committed to sharing knowledge and expertise. We want to continue to partner with farmers to be innovative, increase the opportunities to be successful, and improve sustainability across Michigan’s sustainable farming community.

Green Gardens Farm, also started in 2008, is a diversified, 20-acre farm in Battle Creek, Michigan, managed by Ruthie and Trent Thompson. Battle Creek is in southwest Michigan. They produce vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The farm's mission is to provide fresh, naturally-grown produce to the people of West Michigan at a fair price. Their business has grown from selling at two farmers markets to now selling at those two farmers markets plus growing for 250 CSA members, several wholesale accounts, and a bi-weekly farm market on the farm. The core of their business - growing good healthy food for people, treating the land and the customers with respect - has stayed the same. Both Ruthie and Trent are committed to sharing their knowledge and skills with fellow
farmers to make them more successful in business and in life.

Presque Isle Farm, started in 2014, is a small centennial farm in Posen, Michigan, managed by Molly and Dion Stepanski. Posen is in northeast Michigan. They operate as a family-run business with a mission to grow nourishing food, a healthy community, a vibrant local economy, and an ecologically flourishing environment. They produce vegetables year round and sell through farmers markets, local grocers, restaurants and schools. As the local and sustainable food movement grows nationally, they are working to bring that momentum to northern Michigan and build a foundation for health in their community and the world.

Summary:

There is an increasing demand from wholesale markets for root crops – specifically potatoes, carrots and beets –during the winter months. Every year each of our farms increases production, but none of us have been able to meet the growing demand.

Labor demands and costs associated with producing root crops without mechanization are expensive which leads farmers to have to charge a higher per unit price to reflect the cost of production. For wholesale markets, these root crops sell for a lower price per unit which doesn’t allow us to be profitable. Collectively, our farms will address the problems we face associated with labor needs and cost of production for root crops. We will make production system changes using mechanization for planting, weed management, harvesting, postharvest handling and storage. This should reduce labor costs and lead to better working conditions for us and our employees. The thinning, weeding, harvesting and washing of root crops by hand is hard on the body. To this end, decreasing the need for these activities by hand will increase the working conditions on our farms and increase our overall well-being. Additionally, reducing our cost of production so we are able to produce for profit should generate more sustainable financial growth for our farms. Together, we believe this will improve the quality of life for us and for our employees.

When we each solve this for our farm businesses, we will grow our winter markets and maximize cash flow during a traditionally slower time of the year, expand into new wholesale markets, potentially generate more profit from our root crops, and ultimately increase access to sustainably, local grown vegetables for Michigan residents. We are also committed to sharing what works for each of our farms to assist other small farmers in doing the same.

 

Project Objectives:

This study will compare production and postharvest system changes for root crops to reduce labor demands and overall cost of production. To produce for profit, we need to increase the productivity of our labor force. The solution is to evaluate small-scale mechanization on our farms located in southwest, central and northeast Michigan where we have different soil and growing conditions. We will transition from labor intensive systems to using precision seeding, tractor cultivation, mechanical harvesting, and root washing using a barrel washer. Each farm will consider the optimum sustainable agriculture solutions for their farm with a focus on stewardship, improving quality of life and increasing farm profitability.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Trent and Ruthie Thompson
  • Dion and Molly Barnes Stepanski

Research

Materials and methods:

Each of the farms involved in this project has the potential to expand winter marketing opportunities by increasing harvested yields of root crops (carrots, beets, and potatoes). The limiting factors for each of the farms have been weed control, long harvesting times, precision seeding, and storage space. Each farm had some equipment in place to address these factors but did not have equipment for each area. To address weed control each farm chose cultivation or hilling equipment that would be appropriate for their specific tractor and production systems. Ten Hens Farm chose a double tool bar with sweeps and shovels to be better able to control weeds. Green Gardens Community Farm chose basket weeders for their carrot production. Presque Isle Farm chose a trencher and hiller to increase their ability to control weeds in potatoes. Ten Hens Farm and Green Gardens Community Farm also chose a 30 inch flame weeder from Flame Weeder to use in carrot production. Carrots take a long time to germinate so being able to flame weed 5-6 days after planting should decrease the amount of early weed pressure in the carrot plantings. To decrease harvesting time, Ten Hens Farm chose an undercutter to limit the need to dig root crops by hand. Presque Isle Farm chose a Spedo potato digger so they would not have to dig potatoes by hand. Green Gardens already had an undercutter in place prior to this project. The undercutter and harvester as well as the cultivation equipment also address the quality of life aspects for farm owners and their employees. Not only does hand harvesting root crops take a long time, it is also very hard of the harvesters’ bodies. So, not only do those tools decrease the amount of time to harvest, they also decrease body strain throughout the season. Ten Hens Farm chose a Jang 3-row precision seeder so that carrots and beets could be seeded in a way that would both decrease the amount of seed that was used (thereby decreasing the cost of production) and limit or eliminate the need to thin these crops (which is labor intensive and costly). Presque Isle Farm chose a cooler to be able to store their potatoes at a different temperature than their other crops in an existing cooler and also to be able to have the space to store the amount of potatoes they were growing. Green Gardens Community Farm and Ten Hens Farm chose barrel washers to wash the large amount of root crops (specifically carrots and potentially beets) efficiently and effectively.   

 

Research results and discussion:

There was a learning curve with using new equipment and tools in year one. Some worked well immediately and some took practice and adjustments to learn to use effectively. 

For Ten Hens Farm, in 2017, the Jang Seeder dramatically decreased the amount of seed used and eliminated the need to thin carrots. They learned that pelleted carrots were a better selection than naked seed when using the Jang seeder. Although they did not count the seeds that were seeded with the Jang, visually they were able to determine that they planted drastically less seed than when they used an Earthway seeder like they had in the past. In the 250 ft double rows that Ten Hens Farm plants carrots in, they would use approximately 10,000 seeds (based on the size of the seed packets ordered). When they switched to using the Jang seeder, they used approximately 3,000 seeds in the same space since they were able to calibrate the precision seeder to drop 6 seeds per foot. They were also able to seed both rows at the same time with the multi-row seeder. In the past they would have had to seed them as individual rows. The rows were also straighter than with an Earthway seeder which allowed for easier cultivation – cultivation that did not take out large areas of carrots due to non-straight rows. Carrots seeded with the Jang seeder did not need to be thinned at all thereby saving labor hours and wages as well as the strain it takes to thin large areas of carrots by hand.

For Ten Hens Farm in 2018, the Jang seeder allowed them to become even more efficient and proficient. They increased the amount of seeds dropped per foot to approximately 12 to increase the density so that the carrots would establish a better canopy and shade out weeds later in the season. The best stands resulted from using the Jang seeding “puck” MJ-24. They also doubled the amount of rows of carrots per bed from two to four. This allowed them to produce more carrots per area and also aided in shading out weeds later in the season. There were similar results to the 2017 season in that the rows were straighter with the Jang seeder than they would have been with the Earthway they used in the past and they did not need to be thinned because of the precision seeding which resulted in decreased labor time dedicated to the carrots.   

Timing and irrigation with the flame weeder took some practice as well. Since 2017 was such a dry year in Bath, Michigan, germination of earlier plantings of carrots were fairly poor. In early plantings Ten Hens Farm used the flame weeder but since irrigation was not in place the weeds often emerged after flame weeding when rain did finally come. For the fall/winter storage planting, Ten Hens Farm had irrigation in place and used the flame weeder 9 days after planting. Fall carrot beds were formed on 6/23/17 and beds were seeded on 7/9/17. Each bed was 250 ft long and consisted of a double row of ‘Bolero’ carrots. Five beds were planted for a total of 2,500 total bed feet. Beds were flamed on 7/18/17. Total time to seed these beds was 6 minutes. The field that these carrots were seeded in has a high weed seed bank due to poor weed management in previous years. The flame weeder decreased early weeding needs but Ten Hens Farm did have to hand weed these carrots two times. Without the early flame weeder, the carrots would not have gotten established because there would have been early weed pressure. Subsequent hand weeding was made easier because the carrots were able to establish and grow before the next round of weeds germinated. Marketable yields for carrots from these rows was 1,340 lbs. Total sales from these beds was $3,655. The carrots did not get as large as we would have liked at harvest and that, along with some groundhog damage, is what is attributed to lower than expected yields. There is now a large, permanent electrical fence in place that should deter the groundhogs and we will also seed carrots the third or fourth week of June so they have longer to grow. Ten Hens Farm will also ensure more consistent watering throughout the growing period. 

In 2018, Ten Hens Farm only did a fall/winter planting of carrots so that they could focus on good germination, weeding, and yields. They had irrigation in place, which they did not have in the first plantings of 2017 and used the flame weeder 5 days after planting. An overhead irrigation system using Senninger Wobblers on 3ft pvc risers spaced at approximately 20 ft allowed them to flame weed without having to remove the irrigation and then relay it after flamming. The combination of having consistent irrigation in place and correct timing with the flame weeder reduced the amount of time hand weeding took in 2018. While they did one hand weeding, as compared to two in 2017, the hand weeding took much less time in 2018. Fall carrot beds were formed on 7/20/18 and beds were seeded on 7/25/18. Each bed was 100 ft long and consisted of a four rows of ‘Bolero’ carrots. Seven beds were planted for a total of 2,800 total bed feet. Beds were irrigated immediately and flamed on 7/30/18. They were kept watered until emergence which resulted in much better germination rates than in 2017. Total time to seed these beds was 15 minutes. Without the early flame weeder, the carrots would not have gotten established because there would have been early weed pressure. Subsequent hand weeding was also made easier because the carrots were able to establish and grow before the next round of weeds germinated. Marketable yields for carrots from these rows was 1,480 lbs. Current total sales from these beds is $2,695. Ten Hens Farm has 170 lbs currently remaining in their cooler. At the average price they have received for this season’s carrots, the total potential sales for 2018 carrots is $3,004. They produced a similar yield per row foot as 2017 but were able to produce that in a much smaller area by seeding four rows instead of two per bed. Carrots from 2018 were much larger than carrots from 2017 since they were irrigated more evenly throughout their entire growth and weed pressure was lower due to the timing of the flame weeder.  Based on results from Green Gardens Community Farm, another farm involved in this project, Ten Hens Farm is planning to increase their seeding density to 20 seeds per foot in-row as that resulted in large marketable yields of quality carrots for Green Gardens. Harvesting and washing carrots at Ten Hens Farm was also more efficient as they were larger and took less overall time than smaller carrots. 

In 2017, The implementation of the Spedo potato digger, the Wunderbar disc hiller and cultivation toolbar, and the addition of a second large walk-in cooler completely changed Presque Isle Farm’s potato production system. By mechanizing almost all steps in the system, they increased their production by over 1000%. Presque Isle Farm planted 450 lbs of potatoes including 9 different varieties on approximately ⅓ of an acre. Compost and fertilizer/amendment were applied prior to planting at the recommended rate. The potatoes were planted 12” apart in single rows, on 4’ centers. The rows were hilled three times throughout the season at 6”, 12”, and 18”. The hills were side dressed with 13-0-0 organic fertilizer prior to the third hilling. Potato beetle pressure was low during the 2017 season so the field was never sprayed but they walked the field weekly starting at the beginning of July to hand pick beetles. The plants were cut back at least 2 weeks before harvesting. To efficiently use the Spedo digger, the plant material must be completely broken down or moved off of the hills prior to digging. Heavy weed pressure would also hinder the effectiveness of the digger. Starting in August, they began digging weekly and would only dig the current week’s needs. They finally dug all of the potatoes for storage at the end of October. Having a second cooler on hand to store the potatoes at 55 degrees was crucial in maintaining a high quality product. For the long term storage potatoes, that temperature was gradually decreased starting at around 3 weeks to their standard cooler temperature of about 34-36 degrees. The potatoes were all harvested into burlap sacks but did not store as well as they had hoped in the bags. They eventually pulled the potatoes from all of the bags and put them in bulb crates to increase air circulation. The amount of rot decreased dramatically after the change. In 2018, they plan to store all of the potatoes in bulb crates. Presque Isle Farm’s final yield for 2017 was 4,480 lbs,  averaging about 9.95 lbs yield per 1 lbs seed. Considering they sold much of the harvest as early potatoes and chose to harvest before potatoes became too large, this is a satisfactory yield. If they also consider a roughly 3% cull for damaged or rotting potatoes, that takes the actual yield to approximately 4,346 lbs of sellable product. The gross income from this planting was $5,383 or an average of  $1.24/lb. Their pricing over the season varied from $0.75/lb at farmers markets to $2.50/lb to chefs. With a plan to make no less than $1.50/lb on all potatoes, two things need to be considered in the coming season. Either the actual cull rate was much higher when packaging potatoes for sale, or the selling of potatoes at the farmers markets in bags and quarts that were not precisely weighed was not actually meeting the planned price point. These considerations will be addressed in the coming season.

In 2018, Presque Isle Farm planted approximately ⅓ of an acre, the same amount that they planted in 2017. Compost and fertilizer/amendment were applied prior to planting at the recommended rate. The potatoes were planted 12” apart in single rows, on 4’ centers. The rows were hilled three times throughout the season at 6”, 12”, and 18”. The hills were side dressed with 13-0-0 organic fertilizer prior to the third hilling. Starting in August, they began digging weekly and would only dig the current week’s needs. They finally dug all of the potatoes for storage at the end of October. potatoes were initially stored at 55 degrees to maintain a high quality product. For the long term storage potatoes, that temperature was gradually decreased starting at around 3 weeks to their standard cooler temperature of about 34-36 degrees. The potatoes were stored in bulb crates to increase air circulation which they learned in 2017 was crucial. They did not use burlap bags for long term storage as they had in 2017. Presque Isle Farm’s final yield for 2018 was 2,174 lbs, which was down from 4,346 lbs the previous year. This dramatically decreased year is attributed to the major lack of rain and the potatoes being in an area that was not irrigated. The gross income from the 2018 planting was $4,013, which is down from $5,383 from 2017. However, the 2017 planting averaged $1.24/lb while the 2018 planting averaged $1.84/lb. Based on 2017 sales per lb, their goal for 2018 was to sell at no less than $1.50/ lb on all potatoes.

In 2017, Green Gardens was able to reduce the amount of time weeding carrots with the use of its new 30” flame weeder. A total of 12,000 row feet of a combination of Bolero and Sugar Snax carrots were seeded three rows/30” bed at 15-20 seeds/ft on 7/8/17 and 7/22/17. Both plantings were flamed at 6 days post seeding on 7/14/17 and 7/28/17 with the 30” propane burner. The total time flaming for both plantings was less than 40 minutes since the flame weeder covered all three rows and the entire bed surface. Previously, the farm would have used a one row Red Dragon flame weeder that would have taken three times as long (120 minutes) and not performed as well since it didn’t cover the entire bed surface. Although the 2017 fall carrot patch didn’t face intense weed pressure, they believe that the ability of the 30” flame weeder to cover the entire bed probably cut hand cultivation at five weeks in half (over the Red Dragon) to 12 person-hours. Marketable yields were very good with an estimated 10,800 lbs of Bolero carrots and 1,400 bunches of Sugar Snax carrots harvested. An estimated 1,600 lbs of Bolero carrots was overwintered from 7/28/17 planting in the field due to a shortage of cooler space, lack of time, and desire to conduct an experiment. Unfortunately, the marketable yield was reduced overall by about 10% on the Bolero carrots from rodent damage at the top of the carrot root. Rodent traps will be set in carrots in 2018.

In 2018, Green Gardens was able to further reduce the amount of time weeding carrots. A total of 10,800 row feet of Bolero carrots were seeded three rows/30” bed at 15-20 seeds/ft on 7/11/18 and flame weeded on 7/17/18. The total time flaming was less than 40 minutes since the flame weeder covered all three rows and the entire bed surface. In addition to the flame weeding the 2018 carrot planting was wheel hoed one time (2 hours) and hand hoed one time (4 hours). Carrots were harvested in late October and early November. Marketable yields were very good at over 12,000 lbs of Bolero carrots harvested for 2018. That is more than 1 lb/row foot which is in increase over already good yields in 2017.

The 30” flame weeder worked equally well on Green Gardens 2017 Fall beet crop, which they aim to manage in a similar way as the carrots. A total of 10,440 row feet of Red Ace beets were seeded on 7/8/17 and 7/22/17. An additional 840 row feet of Chiogga and Boldero beets were also seeded on 7/22/17. All beets were flamed with the 30” flame weeder on 7/14/17 and 7/28/17, six days post seeding (just like the carrots). Time flaming was reduced by 66% compared to previous Red Dragon flamer, and they believe that the full bed flaming capability of the 36” flamer cut the hand weeding at five weeks by 50% (just like the carrots) to 12 person-hours. Yield was very good on the Red Ace plantings. They harvested an estimated marketable yield of 9,800 lbs and 300 bunches in November. Their wholesale price/lb for beets was $1.50. Marketable yield on Red Ace beets was reduced by about 3% due to rodent damage at root tips. Yield was zero on Chiogga and Boldero plantings due to poor germination. They are going to experiment with paperpot transplanting with Chiogga and Boldero beets in 2018.

In 2018, the 30” flame weeder worked well again on Green Gardens Fall beet crop. A total of 4,000 row feet of Red Ace beets were seeded on 7/8/18. Beets were not flamed in 2018 due to lack of time available, so weed pressure was somewhat higher than 2017. Marketable yield was very good on the Red Ace plantings. They harvested an estimated 3,000 lbs in November. Beets were smaller due to good germination and no thinning as the farm was targeting smaller size beets for their retail markets for 2018. Their price/lb for beets in 2018 was $1.50. Yield was zero on Chiogga and Boldero plantings again in 2018. While Green Gardens had intentions of using the paper pot planted for golden and Chioggia beets, they did not do so in 2018. They are determined to use the paper pot transplanter in 2019 for the golden and chioggia beets.

Green Gardens also purchased and implemented a basket weeding system for the 2018 product year. This equipment was intended to be used for between row weeds in carrots. However, the between-row spacing of their carrot planting and the learning curve associated with using the basket weeder in the small between-row spacing made it difficult to use the basket weeder without damaging the carrots. They will continue to improve their ability to cultivate using the basket weeder and adjust their carrot spacing to better utilize this equipment. They also used the basket weeder on brassica crops and reduced weeds that needed to be weeded with a hoe by 80%. They used this equipment on multiple brassica crops two weeks after transplanting. They found that it did a wonderful job reducing the weeds between the rows. They still had to weed with hoes in the row but that time was greatly decreased. They were also able to use this piece of equipment to mark rows for planting so that the rows were the correct distance apart to use this equipment without damaging crops. Challenges with the basket weeder were that there was a small window to use it in and if it was missed the weeds became too large to use the basket weeder on. Additionally, soil conditions must be right for it to work properly.  

In 2017, Green Gardens’ new barrel washer helped the farm process potatoes, beets, and carrots faster, more ergonomically, and do a higher quality job than its previous system. They harvested approximately 3,000 lbs Butterball and French Fingerling Potatoes, 10,800 lbs Bolero carrots and 9,800 lbs Red Ace beets in November of 2017. Carrots and beets were harvested into Rubbermaid totes or plastic garbage bags. Potatoes were harvested into black bulb crates. All crops were kept in the coolers until they were sold or unmarketable. Rates for washing were estimated at 200 lbs/hr for potatoes, 300 lbs/hour for carrots and 400-450 lbs/hour for beets with one person. The rate for carrots would be that of beets were it not for some added sorting time due to rodent damage. Their previous system involved washing with a hose and a black crate on a table. They believe the barrel washer to be at least 25-50% faster for these crops. The roots come out of the barrel washer cleaner than hand washing (which enhances marketability). The barrel washer also improved employee safety and satisfaction. The washer is easy on the body (you just dump them in and let the washer do the work!) and the job is more enjoyable than hand washing.

In 2018, Green Gardens’ again harvested carrots and beets into Rubbermaid totes or plastic garbage bags. Potatoes were harvested into black bulb crates. All crops were kept in the coolers until they were sold. Rates for washing for 2018 are estimated at 200 lbs/hr for potatoes, 400 lbs/hour for carrots, 400-450 lbs/hour for beets, and 200 lbs/hour for radishes and sun chokes with one person. For 2018 they made some modification to the barrel washer that allowed them to better use it. These included building a protective cover for the gearbox because a lot of soil was washing into the gears, making the grease zeros more accessible, and changes to allow the unit to drain better.

 

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

96 Farmers
6 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Education and outreach activities were scheduled to occur in year two (2018) of this project.

The first activity that each of the three farms hosted was a root crop production, harvesting, and handling field day to share the results of this study. Field days were promoted widely with a goal of 15 farmers at each workshop. The farms involved are located in southwest, northeast and central Michigan. These are three distinct areas of Michigan with different soil types and planting dates. Due to these differences, the workshop attendees were different farmers and the results from the project were more applicable to their region.

In 2018, each farm hosted an on-farm field day as proposed. The targeted total participants for these field days was 45 and the total actual number of participants for these three field days was 46. Presque Isle Farm’s field day occurred in August, Green Gardens Community Farm’s field day occurred in September, and Ten Hens Farm’s field day occurred in October. Each of these on-farm field days included an overview and discussion of the grant project, a farm tour of each farm, discussion and inspection of the equipment purchased through the grant, and a demonstration of equipment that was currently being used (varied by farm and weather conditions). In addition to the previous mentioned activities, field day participants also discussed how storage crop production fits into the larger overall economics and marketing of each of the farms as it related to each businesses year-round plan.

In 2018, the three farms presented at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market Expo about their experiences and results from the project. The conference session, held in December 2018, was attended by approximately 50 farmers. This 1.5 hour session included presentations by each of the farms individually as well as a panel-style question and answer period with all three farms answering questions about the equipment they purchased and used, lessons learned, changes they made from year 1 to year 2, and yields by crop. In addition to this conference session, all three farms are also presenting together at the Michigan Family Farms Conference in February 2019 at the invitation of SARE. 

Additionally, a manuscript for publication has been submitted to American Vegetable Grower. It is currently under review by the editorial staff.

Learning Outcomes

52 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:
Learning outcomes for Presque Isle Farm
  1. Overall this project helped them to learn more about successful tractor cultivation. Understanding timing and soil conditions has increased the effectiveness of their tractor cultivation systems. 
  2. Seeing how effective mechanization can be, they are trying to apply these ideas to all aspects of their farm. This project has encouraged them to reduce the physical burdens on their bodies by investing in ways to farm smarter, not harder. 
  3. Going through this research grant process in general has been a huge asset for their farm and business. This project forced them to look at different systems on their farm and evaluate their effectiveness and come up with solutions to operate more efficiently. 

 

Learning outcomes for Ten Hens Farm:

  1. The project allowed them to increase comfort and ability with blind tractor cultivation. In year one of this two year project cultivation took place on wider rows that were more forgiving. In year two, some of the crops were spaced closer with more narrow rows. This allowed for more production in less area. It also meant that they needed to be more precise in their cultivation. 
  2. This project focused on root crops but by observing the effectiveness of mechanized weed control and the impact it had on increased yields (by decreasing competition from weeds) they have also begun using some of the tools from this project on other crops. This has allowed them to not only better manage weeds in the winter storage crop production, but to also manage weeds in other crops including leafy greens, head lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, leeks, garlic, and onions.   
  3. This is the first grant that this farm has managed specifically related to their farm. Managing the grant writing, reporting, and financials has allowed the farm to grow their skill set which should result in future grant opportunities for them.

 

Learning Outcomes for Green Gardens Community Farm:

   1. Creating a tight system around using some of the equipment is critical for successful implementation and use of the equipment. For example, the flame weeder is a great tool when used at the appropriate time. In 2018, this farm had beets germinate at 5 days, a little earlier than they thought, causing them to miss the short window where the flame weeder is effective. This resulted in more weeds and more labor hand weeding. They learned to change the practice of having a specific days after planting to flame to monitoring the crops more closely after seeding to ensure they are flaming at the correct time. 
 
   2. Good record keeping will help them gauge the overall value of the equipment to their operation. Keeping solid records will help them determine the cost of production for specific crops and allow them to set prices that reflect that cost plus room for profits. As new tools for weeding, harvesting, and washing were implemented over the two years of the grant the cost of production for their crops shifted because of the decrease in labor. 
 
   3. The grant encouraged them to more quickly develop efficient mechanized systems in other parts of the farm business. They are very focused on establishing a system for most crops that they produce now, providing greater consistency and time-savings long-term. This grant allowed them to learn the importance of systems that everyone on the farm is aware of to maximize their labor efficiencies. They have seen the benefit of this by starting with a small number of crops which will expand to more crops because of their experiences implementing systems over the past two years. 
 

On the whole, these three farms overcame the identified barrier of supplying more storage crops for winter markets while decreasing their labor needs for those specific crops and decreasing the wear and tear on their bodies. They implanted precision seeding, mechanized cultivation and harvesting, mechanized washing, and post harvest handling to ensure high quality crops that have have increased each farm’s revenue. In addition, they decreased the amount of time they and their employees spend hunched over hand weeding or doing other activities that cause them to place more wear and tear on their bodies.   

Project Outcomes

Success stories:

Project outcomes for Presque Isle Farm:

  1. The farm increased their potato production while decreasing labor. This directly results in higher profits. 
  2. They are able to offer a more diversified selection of produce into their winter markets. This increases their sales of not only potatoes but also their greens and other storage crops. 
  3. This project provided them a starting point for increasing their mechanization across their farm. By mechanizing they can become more competitive in their markets and increase their yields. 

 

Project outcomes for Ten Hens Farm:

   1. The farm increased carrot, beet, radish, and hakurei turnip production while decreasing their labor required to produce those products. This allowed them to increase sales of these products by having more available. At the same time, mechanizing a large part of this production allowed the farm owners and their employees to decrease the amount of time they spend hand weeding or otherwise stooping low to the ground. This has decreased wear and tear on their bodies and improved their overall work environment.

2. They have increased their winter sales and been able to offer storage crops for sale over a longer period of time. By decreasing the amount of time they spend hand thinning and hand weeding root crops they have been able to spend more time on other crops. This has allowed them to have more winter greens available because they had more time to contribute to producing those crops. Spending less time in the mid-late fall on root crops has meant more time on hoop house/high tunnel grown greens being planted at the correct time and given the attention they need to produce large late fall and winter harvests. 

3. This project has allowed Ten Hens Farm to experiment with cultivation equipment they would not have otherwise purchased and given them the opportunity to start to shift their farm to cultivation for weed control. 

 

Project Outcomes for Green Gardens Community Farm:

 
1. This farm was able to use the equipment acquired in the grant to save time cultivating and processing roots. This resulted in lower labor costs for these crops and allowed them to shift resources to other farm enterprises. This allowed the farm to produce more root crops for winter storage and sales in a shorter amount of time, thereby making those crops more profitable.
 
2. The equipment helped the owners and their staff put less physical toll on their bodies. This is critical for the sustainability of the farm for owner and for employee health, morale, and long-term retention. By creating a more enjoyable work environment owners and staff did not dread activities that, in the past, involved long hours of bending over or otherwise being low to the ground. The use of the equipment, while not completely eliminating these activities, greatly reduced the amount of time spent in these positions. 
 
3. The equipment helped them farm more land and increased the quantity and quality of food that they have to sell in the winter time, which they see as an area of growth potential for their farm. By increasing the amount of products available they are better able to keep their on-farm store stocked with high quality produce throughout the winter. 
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.