Developing Harvest Task Checklists to Assist Farmers in Managing Harvest Crews

2009 Annual Report for FNC08-712

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $4,108.79
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Claire Strader
Troy Community Farm

Developing Harvest Task Checklists to Assist Farmers in Managing Harvest Crews

Summary

[Editor’s Note: The following is a plain text version of the report with the tables recreated. To see the report with tables as submitted, open the PDF version of the report that is attached.]

WORK ACTIVITES
– Determined priority crops that harvest crews would likely harvest multiple times throughout the season, and chose 10 crops to develop into checklists.
– Created draft checklists for each crop, including tools needed, field harvest procedures, and wash shed cleaning and packing procedures.
– Printed, trialed, and revised Harvest Checklists for each crop, making changes based on farmer and harvest crew feedback.
– Explored quantitative measures that would be useful to collect to evaluate the effectiveness of the harvest checklists and trialed several questionnaires with harvest crews.
– Printed and laminated all final checklists, so they could be easily used in the field and trained the harvest crew to use harvest checklist. Final checklists are attached.
– Shared harvest checklists with Tricia Bross to review for her farm.
– Collected data on amount of time taken to complete task, on confidence level of harvest crew, and farmer satisfaction of final product for harvest crews that had the harvest checklist as a reference (Wednesday harvest crews) and harvest crews that did not have harvest checklist as a reference (Friday harvest crews).
– Tricia is currently altering checklist to match her farm needs.
– Tricia shared this project and its purpose with other farmers to gain feedback.

Funds Used:
Gini Knight worked 260 hours on this project at Troy Community Farm: developing checklists, creating data collection worksheets, training and working with harvest crews, and collating and analyzing data. $2600
Claire Strader worked 20 hours on this project at Troy Community Farm finalizing checklists, training harvest crews, and guiding/supervising Gini. $340
Printing and laminating of harvest checklists. $8

RESULTS
Because the harvest checklists were not finalized until late summer, data collection for 2009 was minimal. Data collection in 2010 will begin with the first harvests and before the crews are already familiar with the tasks through prior training and work on the farm.

Table 1. Summary of Harvest Results by Crop
——————————————————————————————-
……………………………Average…………..…………..Average
……………………………minutes……..…(N) 9………minutes………….(N) 3
Crop……………………per bunch……..trials……..per bunch……….trials
…………………………__________________________________________
……………………………………Wednesday………|…………….Friday
——————————————————————————————-
Cucumbers……………………………………..0……………………………………0
Summer
Squash…………………………………………….0……………………………………0
Lettuce……………………………………………0……………………………………0
Kale…………………………..4.9……………….1…………………………………..0
Chard………………………..7.5……………….1…………………………………..0
Basil………………………….3.5……………….2……………………………………0
Scallions……………………5.3………………..1……………12.8……………….1
Beets…………………………3.6………………..1…………………………………..0
Leeks…………………………7.9…………………3…………………………………..0
Radish………………………………………………0…………….8.4…………………2

Confidence Levels

When trialing this experiment, we found that we could fairly easily record the amount of time that it takes to complete the tasks, but recording qualitative measures proved to be more challenging. One reason for this difficulty was that the qualitative measures were not recorded immediately following the task. The number of workers in a harvest crew often fluctuates from start to finish. The largest number of workers is needed in the field for actual harvest, but often fewer workers are needed during washing and packing, with the exception of crops that are bunched in the wash shed. Therefore, when workers are no longer needed for a certain task, they are directed to a different task, thus not following a crop to its completion. This change in workers meant that qualitative questions were answered at the end of the workday, and not immediately after the task, which could cause some inaccuracies with answers. Next year, we have planned a better system for capturing this data immediately after harvest workers complete their assigned tasks.

After completing the harvest tasks, workers were asked to select one of the three options: 1) Very Confident in completing the task, 2) Somewhat Confident in completing the task – had to ask a question, 3) Not confident – unclear with how to complete some of the tasks, and had to ask farmer several questions.

Our current results show that 87% of harvest crews (n=23 workers) with checklists were very confident and 13% were somewhat confident, having to ask at least one question to complete the task. One hundred percent of harvest crews (n=7 workers) without the checklist were very confident in completing the task. No one on either crew was not confident in completing the harvest tasks. Unfortunately, we did not collect this data for each of the farm workers. We collected confidence level data from 30 of the 59 workers that were timed during the harvest.

Table 2. Harvest Crew Confidence Levels
——————————————————————————————-
Harvest………% Very………% Somewhat……%Not
Day…………….Confident……Confident………Confident
——————————————————————————————-
W(n=23)…………87%………………13%……………-
F(n=7)……………100%………………-…………………-

Farmer Satisfaction

Workers get more familiar with harvest techniques as the season progresses. Since harvest checklists were created later in the season results may be confounded with experience of crew.

After the final product was completed, the farmer was asked to select one of the following options: 1) Very satisfied with final product, 2) Satisfied, or 3) Not very satisfied. The farmer was very satisfied with the final product 83% of the time for harvest crews with checklists (n=6), and was just satisfied with the final product 17% of the time. The farmer was very satisfied with the final product 100% of the time for the harvest crews without the checklists (n= 1). We need more data to complete a strong analysis if the harvest checklists were assisting in creating a satisfactory product.

Table 3. Farmer Satisfaction Levels with Final Product
——————————————————————————————-
Harvest…………Very………Somewhat………Not
Day…………….Satisfied……Satisfied………Satisfied
——————————————————————————————-
W(n=7)……………86%……………14%……………-…………………[with checklists (Wednesday)]
F (n=1)……………100%……………-…………………-…………………[without checklists (Friday)]

Overall, the amount of time that each crop takes to be harvested, washed and packed was insightful and useful to the farmers. With more detailed harvest information on these crops, farmers may get a better sense of what are the most valuable or efficient crops to plant, and when would you want to consider mechanizing a task.

NEXT YEAR

– Reevaluate data collection, and finalize collection methods by April 1.
– Finalize harvest checklists for Tricia’s farm.
– Coordinate dates for data collection at Troy and Luna Circle. Because of the time it took to develop the checklist in 2009, data collection did not begin until late summer. Data collection for 2010 will begin with the first harvests and before crews have much experience in the field.
– Train appropriate interns/staff to collect data.
– Both farms will use and collect data with harvest crew using checklist two to four times for each crop, and with harvest crew not using checklist at least two to four times for each crop.
– 4 tests w/checklist compared to 4 tests w/o checklist (2 at Troy and 2 at Luna Circle)
– 8 tests x 10 crops – 80 tests total
– 40 tests w/checklist compared to 40 checklists w/o for confidence levels and farmer satisfaction
– Tests should be staggered throughout the growing season.
– Record data throughout season.
– Analyze data in November/December.
– Share project results and harvest checklist templates through the channels listed below.

OUTREACH
Information sharing about this project in 2009 was limited to:
– Discussions with farm interns at Troy (11), most of whom participated in the project as part of the field crews, and some of whom (5) intend to work on or start their own farms in the future.
– Informal conversations with farmer peers at meetings and gatherings.

When data collection is complete and results are finalized, results will be shared in the following ways:
– Create workshop on Harvest Checklists for Madison Area CSA Coalition (MACSAC) grower gathering (42 growers) in January 2011.
– Post workshop materials on MAC SAC website (www.macsac.org) including harvest checklist templates which can be modified for use at other farms.
– Submit workshop proposal to the 2011 MOSES Organic Farming Conference (http://www.mosesorganic.org/workshops.html)