Scaling Up Production by Improving Worker Comfort and Efficiency in No-till Organic Seed Garlic Production System

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $3,705.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Daniel Perkins
Perkins' Good Earth Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Vegetables: garlic


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Stooping, squatting or crawling for hours in our seed garlic and vegetable production have started to take its toll on our knees and backs. Our hardneck seed garlic production is particularly difficult, as it must be planted by hand to meet our market demands and for high quality production. In order to increase profits sustainably, we must increase our production; while at the same time reduce our planting, weeding, and harvesting labor fatigue and costs. Our high residue system from planting into actively growing cover crops presents a unique management challenge.

    NW Indiana has a number of vegetable and berry growers, and knee and back injuries are a common problem. This would hold true for the North Central Region as well. It is well known that prolonged kneeling or stooping to harvest and weed puts vegetable and berry growers in one of the highest risk groups for occupational injuries. If we did these tasks while lying or sitting down, we could eliminate knee and leg strain and reduce strain on our backs and torsos. We could also increase our planting, weeding, and harvesting speed without increasing fatigue, which would ultimately allow us to increase our production.

    A known alternative is to use a motorized lay-down work cart that lets you lie face down while you work (Drangen cart). However, these units have a base price of $9,500 and no used machines exist on the market. Currently, about 30 machines are in use in the U.S according to a Wisconsin Drangen dealer. Our farm does not yet operate at the scale that can justify that type of machine, but we still face significant hours of back and knee labor and we want to increase production, but must do so at an appropriate scale. There are also questions as to how existing carts would function under our particular production system.

    We are planting into actively growing cover crops that can reach 18-24 inches in height that we want to allow to grow as long as possible in the fall. Large and heavy equipment is not ideal in this situation. Plans for seated carts do exist but lack the particulars and proven field level function we need to manage three tasks of planting, mulching, and harvest and our high residue situations with no till garlic planting and harvest.

    Our solution to this problem will involve research, design, and field experience. Dr. Lori Hoagland, associate professor of horticulture at Purdue University, will provide a Purdue horticulture student to conduct a literature and industry review of current sustainable agriculture solutions for labor efficiency in relation to lying down or sitting-harvest and planting carts. Our hope is to gather as many plans, examples, and stories in order to inform our initial design of our own cart. We want to learn from the past work of others but also improve and adapt to our current needs.

    We will then design and build a prototype of a cart specific to our garlic production, with features gleaned from the literature review. Dr. Dennis Buckmaster, Agricultural and Biological Engineering associate professor at Purdue University, will utilize several seniors from his capstone course to take on the design and fabrication of the cart. A local welder, Ken Knip, has a shop next door to the farm and he, along with Purdue facilities, will be utilized for fabrication. During the winter and early spring of 2012 a basic cart will be constructed, and in July during the harvest of garlic, it will be field trialed. After harvest is complete we will tweak our design as needed and utilize the cart for planting in October 2012. During the winter of 2013 we will further improve the cart and design and utilize the cart for the following 2013 planting and harvest. We will then have two seasons of field level experience and feedback from which to make improvements and create a final design.

    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.