Addressing Labor Shortages in the Northeast: A Mechanical Vegetable Harvester for Small and Mid-scale Farms

Final report for FNE19-938

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,978.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Morgiewicz Produce
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Joseph Morgiewicz
Morgiewicz Produce Inc
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Project Information


Vegetable harvest is one of the most challenging tasks on small and mid scale operations. With the many different hurdles to overcome, the proper work force at reasonable cost is imperative to get the crop to market and profit from your crop. However the initial investment for effective mechanical harvesting devices is a cost many farmers can't afford and is hard to obtain here in the northeastern United States. So with my own design I set out to build a machine we could use on our own farm with as low cost as possible. Every aspect of the machine was made in our shop. This kept our labor bill to a minimum. Unlike many other farms we have the capabilities of fabricating and machining equipment for our needs. After 10 months of construction, we found that the physics and design proved we can use more mechanization to overcome some of the issues we face with labor on our farm. Raising worker happiness, increasing productivity per worker, and having minimal impact on the ground and environment. To aide our outreach efforts, a video was published to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County website and Youtube page. Vegetable growers across the Northeast will soon be aware of our efforts.

Project Objectives:

This project’s purpose is to reduce the amount of labor and time it takes to pick vegetables. By reducing the labor requirement, workers will have more time to pick other crops that require more care and do other jobs around the farm like weeding, washing, and packing. The machine will be used full time once constructed and replace some of the work previously done by hand. Having this machine tested on our farm will show us how mechanization can be used in the future and the possibilities to replace difficult-to-find, skilled labor with easier jobs and equal employment opportunities. It won’t only show our farm, but our neighbors and fellow growers in the Northeast region who will be effected by our outreach as well. There are at least six other mixed vegetable farms with over 300 acres of muck soil each who are also interested in mechanizing fresh market vegetable harvest. The objective of this machine is to be an example of the future, a business venture, and a profitability booster while saving on labor.


My research has shown there are not many fresh market vegetable harvesters in the Northeast. The different types of machines that exist in other states are for crops like sweet corn, carrots, onions, potatoes, green beans, salad mixes, light herbs and a few for tomatoes. The machines that would be able to do multiple crops are mostly found in European Countries. Countries like Denmark, Netherlands, and Germany have companies that specialize in vegetable harvesters for specific crops. These companies don’t have a strong presence here in the United States yet. The machines need to be built in Europe and shipped to the states. This can be quite costly with all the freight and the cost of the machines themselves. Some examples of custom harvest equipment manufacturers are Asa-Lift, Grimme, Koppert Machines and Oxbo. Information on these harvesters can only be obtained by contacting the manufacturers. We have contacted two of the mentioned companies, because they make the machines we need. Oxbo is in the US, but specializes in sweet corn, beans, peas, grapes and berries. We don’t grow any of these crops so, Oxbo was not contacted by us. Asa-Lift is in Europe and makes the machines we would use. Our plans have similar functions to Asa-Lift machines because this technology works well with the crops we grow. The same principle is used, which is using two belts running alongside each other and pinching the crop between them. Asa-Lift also makes machines that will mount on the back of a tractor in the same way we want to build. This will make it easier to maneuver small fields, and will be powerful enough to overcome harsh inclines and muddy conditions. We have contacted Asa-Lift for information on dill harvesters and information about costs. The machine mounted to the 3-point hitch of a tractor, used the PTO for the hydraulic pump, and could be gentle enough to use on many of our crops. What stopped us from going further was the cost of the machine. A machine like this would cost over $160,000 for the machine alone. It does not include shipping or set up costs. For a large grower with over 200 acres of only dill production, it may be worth purchasing the machine. But for a smaller grower only looking to save money where they can, this would not be economically feasible.

Another company we contacted was Koppert Machines in the Netherlands and manufactures automated radish harvesters in addition to other specialty crop equipment. The difference between the machines is that, this will be specifically designed with gentle handling of the crop at top priority. It will also be designed for midsize commercial farms. The machine will be just large enough to keep up on the work load but small enough to fit in fields without a hassle. Many of the machines that exist are very large, bulky, and heavy. These characteristics are not ideal for our muck soils that dominate 26,000 acres of our area in Orange County, New York. However, other soil types in the Northeast also have problems with heavy equipment. Large bulky equipment has been known to cause soil compaction. This affects plant growth because the sub soil layers are too hard for plant roots to break through and therefore limits growth. This reduces the sustainability of the soil to grow healthy plants for many years. The idea behind the machine is to reduce the amount of travel in the field with heavy trucks and picking equipment. So, this machine also needs to be light and have minimal effect on the field. The principles of operation for this machine are like those of a carrot harvester. We know that by running two belts side-by-side to sandwich a crop between them, we can achieve a way to pull the crop out of the field and carry it up the belt/conveyor and bring it to a platform. Here the workers will only be worried about bunching and separating out the unfavorable crops. Hydraulic parts are the most complex components of the entire machine, and they are cheap and easy to find here in the US. Steel would be used for the frame and most structural components because it is easy to weld and work with. It is also more durable than aluminum even though it’s light weight.

Description of farm operation:

Morgiewicz Produce is a commercial vegetable farm that grows over 100 varieties of vegetables on over 175 acres of muck soil in Goshen, NY. The farm is entering its 5th generation. From May to November, we operate at 11 weekly farmers market in Westchester, Bronx and Manhattan. We operate many markets with Grow NYC and Harvest Home programs. Our wholesale channels are mostly at Hunts Point Terminal Market in New York City and some wholesale in the immediate area of the farm.

Responsibilities for this project fall on me, Joseph Morgiewicz. I have graduated from the Heavy Equipment Mechanics program at OUBOCES CTEC during high school and I have graduated with my bachelor’s degree at Cornell University for Agricultural Science in the December of 2018. The construction of the prototype of this machine is proof that I can do it, especially since it works and does what it was designed to do.

The farm resource that will be dedicated to this project is the mechanics shop. Here we do all necessary repairs for all of our trucks and farm equipment, as well as the fabrication of equipment that we need. Tools like welders, torches, plasma cutter, lathe and milling machine are all located in this building and have the ability to make what we need.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Ethan Grundberg - Technical Advisor (Educator)


Materials and methods:

2019 Project year: Construction Planning

The first year of our project saw a delay in construction. Unfortunately, like most Farmers, the growing season is so short that we must make all cropping time count. This has taken away from our initial start on constructing the frame of the machine. Our original March start date also happened to be our planting and fieldwork start time this year. However, we still did research and modifications to the machine's blue prints. We took care this year to gain more knowledge about other machines that work on the crops we want to harvest with this machine. We have also gained more motivation to build the machine due to the fact that New York State passed a law that requires farms to pay overtime this year at 60 hours per week. Harvesting our many varieties of crops is challenging enough so we have identified another reason to build this machine for our farm. That reason is to make our workers more efficient, as stated in the project introduction. 

Our research conducted included various types of hydraulic control systems and how they will work into the frame and mechanics of the machine. We have also decided to go with a single-row picking head design. That means the machine will harvest one row at a time. The reason behind this is because we don't want to overwhelm our workers with a massive amount of produce at one time on the machine. With only one row being harvested at a time, we hope that it will be more manageable to package, and hopefully the tractor powering the machine can go faster through the field. If we decide to add another picking head, the machine will be capable of adding another picking assembly later on. 

Also in our research we have been revising our steel selection. We want to select the strongest but lightest possible steel so that the weight of the overall equipment is low, but also strong enough to hold the weight. 

2020 Project Year

As anyone knows, 2020 was not a regular year. The Corona Virus Pandemic put a grinding halt to millions of people's plans, careers, and health. There were numerous obstacles this year that have not yet been overcome. However, we haven't stopped working and planning on this project. 

Thousands of businesses across the country were forced to shut down or put restricted operating procedures in place. This made finding the correct parts and hardware difficult to begin construction. We were eventually able to purchase some of the steel needed for the picking head of the machine. Unfortunately we weren't able to begin construction immediately because of our growing season which presented many other challenges to work with.

Thankfully our business wasn't hit as hard as others. Farming always seems to have a place in the country because people have to eat. Many of our farmers markets, located mostly in New York City, served our customers vegetables just like any other year. Fresh and healthy food at an excellent price which always helps our low income and hardworking customers. The work load for our farm this year seemed to have increased. Despite all of the shut downs and health hazards, we managed to work harder to provide people with the food they needed. We had a steady supply of crops the entire season which was great, but it didn't come without consequence. With all of our hardworking during the growing season, that left a deficit of time to work on this project. 

Overtime for agricultural workers in NYS was approved in 2019 for over 60 hours a week. I'm sure many farms struggled with overtime wages this year like we did. This is a seasonal operation, and we need to maximize the amount of time our workers have with us. But unfortunately we can't afford to pay the over time wages for 75 hours a week, like the year prior. Many of our workers were capped at 60 hours because of this and that left a lot of work that had to be ignored or done sparingly. Harvesting crops took first priority and 85% of our farm is hand picked. We are hoping to great more time this coming year to work on this project so we don't have to rely on everything being hand picked. The end goal is to save on labor and increase our worker's comfort. 

For the 2021 season we are hoping to resume construction in a more meaningful capacity. We look forward to another year of planting and growing, and in the near future having a vegetable harvester to make our lives a little easier on the farm.

2021 Project Year

As with most businesses, we continued to face several obstacles throughout the year 2021 including shortage of parts and labor. We faced many of the same labor issues that we dealt with in 2020, which for us reinforced how necessary the success of this project is. While much of my time was spent on the field in some capacity or another, our progress on the harvester was limited throughout the summer of 2021. However, I was able to use this to our advantage as it gave me insight to additional factors that would ultimately affect the success and usefulness of our harvester design. We altered the blueprints of the machine to include two additional picking heads.  This would increase the efficiency and reduce passes in the field. We are still building the machine with focus on cilantro, however we are putting more thought and research into using it for more crops like kale and collards. This is something we will be spending time on in the coming year. 

Throughout the fall and winter, we have made significant progress on the machine despite many delays and shortages early in the year. We have been able to get many of the hydraulic components needed to provide the power and functionally to this machine. Although we weren’t ready to install all of these components, we had to purchase all of them to stay ahead of the proposed supply shortages and price increases predicted for this year. This required a lot of calculations which will be attached to the appendix when finalized and tested. During the fall this also required making modifications to the prototype machine. This was necessary because exact speed values were needed to begin calculations on things like the force required to drive a picking head belt, which then needs to be matched to the speed and power rating of a selected hydraulic motor. We have for the most part completed and confirmed measurements for necessary belts, hydraulic cylinders, motors and pumps.

Due to our previous delays in construction over the past three years, we had to file for a no-cost extension. With all of the repairs and operations that needed to be attended in order to continue regular operations of the farm, there has been a struggle to begin new projects such as this one. Additionally, we are in the second season of paying overtime after 60 hours. This leaves a lot of the work that could not be done by hired labor, to be done by the owners and family in order to keep the business running while alternate ways are found to reduce the labor requirement. Unfortunately, this has not been an easy change to make. While much of the operation of the farm is dependent on harvesting labor (which this project will ideally help reduce), other areas of production are equally as important and take time to improve. 

Finally, we have started fabrication of the first picking head this January. We are trying to work diligently on getting it ready to test for a spring crop. It’s important to stay focused on this project because in the next couple of months field work will begin again and work in the shop will be harder to accomplish. The farm labor board also just recently (January 28th 2022) decided to again, decrease the amount of hours before NYS farmers have to pay overtime. In the next 10 years, farms will be transitioned into paying overtime after 40 hours per week just like every other industry. As largely unfortunate as this is, it’s another reminder of how important this type of equipment is to produce farmers if we want to stay competitive in a world market. No other farm in the world aside from California and Oregon states have to pay farm workers overtime. Right now it is not a level playing field for us and we are in much need of change.

With these major factors, we are desperately trying to have the harvester completed for this spring. After making any final adjustments from our own field trials in June, we plan to have Ethan set up public field trials and demonstrations for other farms to observe and benefit from as we begin the outreach and education portion of the grant.  

2022 Project year (Note, Parts are listed in Appendix A)

Using the updated machine blueprints, that took into consideration field and crop data collected through the 2019 through 2021 period, official construction of the Multi-Crop started on January 21st, 2022. The process began as plainly as laying two of the 14’ long picking belts on the floor with the drive and idler pulleys inside. From there, the picking heads were built according to the diagram outlined on pages 1 and 2 of Appendix B. 

After the picking heads were assembled, the platform and 3pt hitch were built according to the diagrams outlined on pages 3 and 4 of Appendix B. It was beneficial that the design used a 3 point hitch to mount the platform to the tractor for several reasons. Three point hitch mountings are easier to operate in tight spaces and narrow field entryways. Additionally the entire machine can be lifted off the ground to avoid bad roads and steep narrow bridges into the fields. It reduces the experience level needed to operate the machine compared to a trailer version which requires more planning and space to maneuver.

Special consideration was taken during the construction of the platform frame to provide weight distribution through the axles to support the weight of the crew and picking heads, as the combined weight of the picking heads is approximately 800 lbs.. The frame and axle weight of the platform was 700 lbs.. The carrier axles have the ability to pivot up and down similar to the front axle of a tractor. This was the best way to ensure that the weight of the heads and most important operations are always supported on all 3 wheels no matter the change in ground conditions. For example if there is a wheel track that is deeper than other, the axle will adjust by itself.


The platform was hooked to the tractor, and the picking heads were aligned on the frame for final placement based on measured distance from the tractor and ground height to ensure proper picking head angle. The picking heads are mounted along the right side of the tractor to increase visibility of the picking heads and to keep much of the weight closer to the lift arms on the tractor. Additionally, because the picking heads are positioned adjacent to the tractor, and are only positioned partially over the platform, there is very little wasted platform space. One downside to this design is that the total machine width comes out to 14 ft. wide. It is still maneuverable on the highway, however to be safe requires an escort from field to field.

After determining the final mounting position of the picking heads the machine was moved back into the shop. The picking head mount construction can be viewed on page 6 of Appendix B. 

In order to better balance the weight of the picking heads over the axle, as they extend far beyond the platform, I created a boom (frame) that attaches to the front of all three picking heads. This boom also provides a point of attachment for hydraulic cylinders that lift and lower the picking heads as necessary during operations. Additionally, the boom has a hydraulic cylinder on both sides to lift the entire assembly to a height of approximately 3 feet from the ground, for travel. The boom assembly is detailed on page 7 of Appendix B. 

As we deal with smaller crops that are sold in bunches, I created a takeaway belt system for the workers on the platform. With small, high-density plantings the volume of crop being picked and traveling up the picking belt, it would be difficult for a worker to bunch the crop straight off the picking belt. The 2 foot long (18” wide) takeaway belt serves as a collection place for the crop and moves at a slower speed than the picking belts. The belts are just long enough to allow for adequate bunching time, but have to be short so as not to obstruct the worker at the adjacent picking head.Page 9 of Appendix B outlines the construction of the takeaway belts. It is important to note that although options exist to purchase completed conveyors, such as this one, we found it more economical to build our own. For example, a single roller would have cost $460, however with $30 worth of materials I was able to make the same roller within an hour and a half. 

Another aspect of the machine that was built in response to crop specific needs, was the addition of a cutting blade driven by a hydraulic motor. This assembly can be viewed on page 8 of Appendix B. The blade cuts the stems of crops that are sold without roots. 

The final part of machine assembly was the installation of a complete hydraulic system including all fittings, hoses, and valves. To save cost, hoses and fittings were purchased in bulk and hose assemblies were made in house using our own crimping machine. There were a vast number of fittings, and while we tried to keep everything uniform for ease of installation and maintenance, there were several specialty fittings and hoses. We used JIC fittings wherever possible for their low cost and ability to be disassembled and reassembled without severe loss of function as compared to NPT fittings. The hydraulic system schematic is outlined on page 10 of Appendix B. With calculations included in Appendix C. 

It is important to note, that this design uses its own separate hydraulic system and power plant. A two cylinder vanguard engine coupled with a hydraulic pump, power 95% of the operation. The picking head motors, take-away belts, cutter blade motors and height cylinders are all powered electro-hydraulically from one engine and pump. This saves wasted fuel consumption, having to run the tractor at a higher rpm and not using its full power to achieve the proper pump flow with a pto hydraulic pump. It also means that the tractor we wanted to use would be traveling too fast for the workers to keep up with bunching: with a minimum speed of .4mph, I didn’t want to have to run the tractor faster to maintain the necessary hydraulic flow, but also sacrifice the low traveling speed needed to operate smoothly. A hydraulic system of this size and flow would require almost 2000rpm from the tractor engine to maintain proper flow and would put my travel speed well over 1mph. Because this design uses its own engine, we can adjust the picking belt speed as necessary without having to compliment the tractor engine speed.

The final weight of the machine is 2600 lbs.  

Test day 1: November 7th 2022

Initial testing began rapidly. With the end of the growing season fast approaching, the machine needed to be tested before a hard freeze or snowfall killed off any late season crop. We selected a patch of kale to test the picking heads and cutter blades. We needed to get the machine dialed in and adjusted before bringing in a bunching crew, to avoid wasting any of the workers’ time. The kale we selected was less than ideal. It was a plot that was partially harvested by hand, the remainder was brush hogged and disc harrowed to prepare for overwintering. But the kale grew back, and we ended up harvesting some of it again. So to put it into summary, the stems were woody, it grew short and bushy, the row spacing was entirely scattered, and the ground was uneven where the disc harrow left hills and furrows. Unlike the kale we usually send to market which is taller, uniform row spacing 21” on center, tender stems and relatively even and level ground. 

What we found was exciting and full of potential. Despite the poor conditions, the picking heads were able to be adjusted on-the-fly, via electro-hydraulic cylinders, to flow with the disc narrow furrows. The cutter blades we chose had the correct amount of teeth and used little effort to cut through the woody stems. The pick heads lifted kale off the ground and up to the takeaway conveyors. The major adjustments we decided to make were to add discharge chutes or guards to help the kale fall to the take away conveyors more seamlessly. These guards also keep any leaves from getting caught in the drive pulleys as they exit the picking heads. This was the most important reason because if the leaves got stuck in the pulleys, it damages the product, clogs the drive pulley with debris and could cause slipping, and the guards would make it easier for our crew to grab and bunch. Another note was our traveling speed. The tractor we used had a minimum speed of .4mph. This seemed to be potentially too fast. We were afraid that the workers may not be able to keep up bunching with an abundance of crop. We decided to start looking for a tractor that could go slower.

Testing day 2: November 9th 2022

This testing day was used to focus on the discharge guards of just one picking head. we borrowed a tractor from a neighboring farm that could achieve our creeping speeds. This particular unit could travel as slow as .09mph. This issue needed to be solved before a bunching crew was put to work on board to ensure there wouldn’t be any damage to the leaves of the kale. The first design was not acceptable. The guards crowded the kale leaves too much and caused bunching and binding of product. The kale would not make it through this section on its own, so another style needed to be developed. After a couple hours and modifications to the existing guards, we found success. This designed was tested in the same day during the final hour of daylight. After dark, identical discharge guards were made for the remaining picking heads, in hopes of testing the next day with a bunching crew. 

Testing Day 3: November 10th 2022

The kale crop again was less than stellar. It was the final planting of the season and was planted on ground that we couldn’t irrigate. The germination was very spotty for this reason, which had an effect of the uniformity of the kale. Much of it was short and bushy very close to the ground for 10’ then got taller the next 10’. However, the row spacing was exact and the ground was fairly smooth and level which made maintaining the picking height easier.  Today was the first time a bunching crew worked on the machine. Three workers had jobs of bunching all of the kale that came up the picking heads. One worker for each head. One worker collected all of the bunches and put them in boxes. A total of 4 workers on the machine and one worker operating the tractor and controlling the machine. In a period of 15 minutes, 21 boxes were completed, totaling 252 bunches. This is definitely below the target of a bunch every 5 seconds but there are reasons we are not quite there yet. Firstly the crew had no prior experience on this harvester. They had no rhythm or routine to follow and were given a short time to learn habits for this particular job. For the record, they are very experienced with hand harvesting, each worker averaging 20 boxes an hour by themselves. Another reason for the low bunching rate was the poor kale crop. With an inconsistent crop, there were times that one worker didn’t have any marketable kale coming up the picking head. The time not spent bunching decreased the bunching rate. The small size of the crop also means it took more pieces to form one bunch. The machine on the other hand performed excellently. The picking height was maintained very steadily despite the bouncing and movement from the crew working on the back. There was no damage at all to the leaves. It’s almost as if the machine handled the crop better than if it were picked by hand. The work platform could be made larger and a routine will need to be developed to haul the finished boxes to the wash house for cooling and shipping in a timely manner. The ground speed that seemed to fit for the conditions mentioned was about .29 mph. 




Appendix A_Parts List

Appendix B_Drawings

Appendix C_Calculations

Research results and discussion:

Speed- Bunches per hour by machine, per worker by hand, 

For this machine to be worth the investment, it has to perform in a comparable manner to a manual labor crew, which is currently how 90% of our crops are harvested. On average, one worker can harvest 15 boxes per hour of kale and 10 boxes per hour of cilantro by hand. These are the two crops that we decided to focus on because we sell the most of. The average can vary about 3 boxes plus or minus depending on crop quality (how many yellow/undesirable leaves the patch has, the height and growth, if some has gone to seed production it has to be separated). Weed pressure also will slow down the picking for each worker, as they have to spend more time sorting through the crops and the weeds. On the first crewed test for the Multicrop, the crew was able to make 21 boxes in 18 minutes. 3 workers were making bunches, one worker was packing all the boxes and one operator for the tractor and machine. 5 workers in total would make about 14 boxes per worker in an hour. This isn’t a horrible speed, but there are a few reasons the average is low. The ground speed was .22 mph to start. This was the first and only time there was a crew on the machine before the season ended. They only spent a total of 20 minutes on the machine and did not have enough time to practice or develop a rhythm. The ground speed was set slower so they weren’t overwhelmed with product coming up the picking head. Another reason the bunching rate was lower is because the crop of kale we trialed, was the last of the season and it grew poorly. It had 65-70% germination, survived 2 frosts and lacked the proper temperatures and day length to bush out correctly. This left long stretches in the rows where there wasn’t any viable kale to harvest. The effect this had on the machine crew was that there were often times when one or two workers couldn’t make bunches because there was nothing for them to bunch. Sometimes the workers were standing still or would turn around to help other workers. Weeds had very little effect on the machine because the grabbing width of each picking head is only 7 inches. The picking head will only grab within that range, any crop or weeds that stand outside of that range will be passed over or cut by the blade motors. Some weeds may be picked up by the picking head and they will need to be separated by the workers as the crop reaches them.  We consider this a very successful field trial, because despite all of the unfavorable stand conditions, we were able to meet the current average boxes/hour among our crew. That being said, with a dedicated, trained team and peak field and crop conditions, we would be able to move at a higher ground speed, working with a higher volume of crop and drastically increase our machine average output. 

Quality- Damage reported by hand, by machine, modifications to reduce damage? Consistencies for the machine?

During the first test, there was some minor damage to the stems and leaves. It would occur mostly at the discharge end of the picking head, where leaves could get caught in the drive pulley. To address this issue, guides were made to lift the leaves that hung below the inside of the belts and keep them from being caught in the drive pulleys. This solved the handling issue and improved how the crop exited the picking head and passed to the take away table. Another potential cause of damage, although not reported, could be at the intake side of the picking head. The snouts that lift the leaves off the ground and narrow the plant so the belts can grab are slightly narrow. The prediction is that bigger kale will not pass through the snouts as easily and could become damaged if there is a blockage. To fix this issue, larger snouts will be fabricated to be able to accommodate the large kale and also be able to handle smaller crops such as cilantro. No other potential risks for crop damage were observed as long as the operator maintains a straight and true path in the field. This will keep the crop at the center of the picking heads and allow for seamless grabbing and cutting to occur. 

The picking belts do not cause any damage because they only hold the leaves and stems. The tension applied to the crop is similar to a worker grabbing the crop by hand. There are no other forces being applied to the stems. The belt does not begin to lift the crop until the blade cuts the stems underneath. In the case of cilantro, a shoe rides 2-3 inches below the soil line to loosen the roots and allow the picking head to lift the crop gently out of the ground.

Field Impact- field conditions were good. No standing water or wet spots were encountered. The machine weighs around 2,000lbs without a crew or crop load, and supports itself with the 3 point hitch on the tractor and on 3 wheels attached to the machine. The wheels on the machine ride in designated wheel paths that are relatively sound. Compared to where the crop grows which is soft and will create drag if the equipment is too heavy. In summary no additional wheel tracks or ruts were made in the field by the machine. The tractor that pulls and supports some of the weight from that machine needed to ride off center however, to allow enough space between the front of the machine and the side of the tractor. This resulted in the wheels of the tractor riding next to the designated wheels paths, in the soft ground where the crop grows. To avoid ruts in this area of the field, we used a tractor that had tracks in the rear and large enough front tires to help with flotation. With the field conditions during the test, the tractor did not leave behind any ruts or damage to the ground. We were not able to test in wet or saturated ground because those field conditions did not exist during the time we had to test. 

Research conclusions:

In conclusion, this project aimed to determine if technology and mechanization can be used on small and mid scale vegetable farms at an affordable cost. We were particularly interested in using mechanization to supplement our current workforce with our most challenging task; harvesting. In order to answer these questions, I built a harvester with the intention that it would be able to harvest multiple crops that we grow in high volumes. A single harvester with multi crop capabilities would not only improve harvesting efficiency, but also be more affordable for farms. Throughout the course of 2019, 2020, and 2021 I analyzed field conditions, crop stands, as I updated and improved the design of my original prototype to make it suitable for daily use. During this time I watched as world events changed the labor market and supply chain drastically- namely COVID and the new farm labor bill passed in 2020, which made the questions we set out to answer even more pressing. In 2022 I started construction and over the course of 10 months built "MultiCrop". After completion of the machine, we had our first successful field test in November of 2022 when we determined that supplemental mechanization of harvesting is not only possible but is likely going to be the future of our business. 

Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

6 Farmers participated
9 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

Initially it was planned to have a large multi-farm field day with various machines and types of harvesting equipment throughout the valley. Unfortunately by the time the MultiCrop was up and running there were no crops for the other machines to demonstrate on. All of the other harvesters are used on warm season greens that did not survive the frosts we had going into the middle of November. With the contract end date fast approaching, we could not get another extension to further show or demonstrate the machine I built. We received the first snow cover of the season just days after the successful first test with a bunching crew. We feared the weather wouldn't cooperate with us in the following days for an invitational field day, so we took video footage along with detailed explanation of the harvester in action. During this test day, the project's technical advisor, Ethan Grundberg, was able to review machine operations and film individual aspects of the machine at work. This video footage was compiled into an outreach video that demonstrates the machine at work, explains mechanical function, and key points of consideration for the machine design. The video also includes several important details about cost and potential of the project. The video was then distributed via Cornell Cooperative Extension to all farms within Orange County. The video is attached here for your reference:

Additionally, I will be presenting the video and doing an FAQ session at the up coming 2023 CCE ENYCHP (Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program) Fruit and Vegetable Conference. This presentation will be part of a grower panel titled "How We Use Harvest Aids to Improve Our Efficiency on the Farm Including Veg Veyers and Harvesters” to take place on February 23, 2023 at 9:20am.

Learning Outcomes

26 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

As the sole manufacturer of the machine, I personally gained a great deal of knowledge and skill from this project. Although I am the head mechanic at the farm and have always had a general understanding for hydraulic and electrical systems, however creating an entire hydraulic system and wiring the machine required me to educate myself and take my understanding and knowledge of these two systems to an entirely new level. Additionally, because many steel components of the machine were made in house, I had to learn to make new parts that I have never worked with before resulting in a better understanding of what machining equipment is capable of and how versatile it is. 

While this project has been a vision of mine since the initial concept came to me in 2017, there were many skeptics that I encountered along the way. Now that the machine is built and operational, especially in light of the changing labor market, there are several people that have remarked on the value of thinking outside the box and challenging traditional practices to make way for future opportunities. 

Additionally, this technology is not generally available for smaller farms, but being able to build the machine at a relatively affordable price has opened the eyes of several local farmers, including those on our own farm, to alternative methods for combatting labor shortages, offsetting rising labor costs and the overall value that technology can offer.



Project Outcomes

1 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$14,978.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

With the machine being completely functional, we are looking forward to using it in the 2023 crop season. The machine is capable of harvesting 3 of our primary crops- with more to come, after we can determine any further adjustments. This will allow us to harvest more volume with fewer workers which will help us reduce our labor cost and increase farm profitability. This is incredibly important to us, as we love what we do, and keeping the farm profitable with rising input costs will allow us to stay in business and continue providing food for our market. 

With the machine doing the picking, the work crew will be responsible for bunching, boxing and transporting the crops, which will be easier on their bodies and allow them to complete the same amount of work within a shorter day. We consider this a big success not only for economic reasons but because their quality of life will be better. Additionally, with a smaller picking crew, our current labor force can be redistributed allowing us to reduce employee turnover at our farm markets. 

Farmer Quote: "As a young farmer in the industry who was raised to work 100 hours a week in order to "make hay while the sun shines" I am very hopeful that this machine and other technological advances will help improve my life by allowing me to make a more reasonable income and hopefully see my family more. I love what I do, but it has become more challenging to make a living due to the new farm labor regulations, continuously rising input costs, and no increase in the prices we receive for our product. It's time for a change in the way things are done."



Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

There were many challenges that I faced on this project, first and foremost was trying to build a machine that I have never seen in real life and making it work efficiently to solve our labor problem. Additional challenges that we faced were considering how our workers currently harvest produce, determining what type of machine would best suit our soil and our field size, machining all of the parts, avoiding purchasing expensive parts and materials due to supply chain issues. Building required countless hours of calculation, written designing, laying out parts, drawing schematics and considering integration of each part into the whole of the machine. While some may find this tedious, the logical methodology of considering how the system would function as a whole and the role each piece has to play in that whole was invaluable in avoiding costly mistakes and the overall success of the machine. As a mechanic and machinist, this is the approach and methodology that I would recommend to anyone undertaking a project.

The key to the project's success was my mechanical knowledge, fabrication abilities, determination to make this change to our farm, and my field experience which allowed me to troubleshoot the design prior to building each component. We are amazed that the machine works not only as it was intended, but as smoothly and efficiently as it does. While the machine is fully functional and does not need any additional changes, we are looking forward to considering several possible improvements for the future season. As we continue to use the machine and observe it we will be able to better determine which adjustments would make the most sense or offer the most additional value. Improvements for consideration are installing a light canopy over the platform to keep the sun off the workers and product, electronic sensors to adjust the picking head height automatically during operation, adding an additional folding platform or tow behind trailer to allow more space for empty boxes or bunched and boxed produce. 

This machine was designed to work in muck soil, and is small enough for easy transport and use in small fields, meaning that it should be versatile enough that nearly any sized vegetable farm would benefit from it, however it is likely that smaller farms would get less use from the machine and it wouldn't be economically efficient. 

That being said, with a functional harvester on farm, we are able to state that the machine is able to quickly and efficiently harvest multiple crops having successful trials with kale and cilantro with no decrease in produce quality. Another question that we had set out to answer was as to whether or not mechanization can be used in place of skilled workers and to what extent. With the overwhelming success of this project, we look forward to exploring more options for mechanization for ourselves in the future.  

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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.