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

Project Overview

FNE19-938
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,978.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Morgiewicz Produce
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Joseph Morgiewicz
Morgiewicz Produce Inc

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: postharvest treatment
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: labor/employment
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    The most challenging task for commercial mixed vegetable farmers is harvesting their crops. With many varieties of crops there are different windows of harvest times and skills required to pick each crop. Most vegetables are hand-harvested because the crops are delicate and damage would reduce the marketability of high value crops. Farm workers need to be quick, skilled, and have the endurance to work long hours to get crops to market. One possible solution to ease the harvest stress faced by farm workers would be to adopt more mechanization. A multi-crop harvester that can harvest crops with similar growing habits such as cilantro, radish, beets, carrots, and garlic would be a good start to increasing harvest efficiency for mixed vegetable growers. Vegetable harvesters are starting to make a difference on large scale operations, but are too expensive and not scale-appropriate for medium and small growers.

    Another issue is that the machines that exist are used for processing vegetables. The quality and appearance standards for fresh market produce are incompatible with these harvesters. With quality and speed in mind, I designed a prototype of a multi-crop harvest machine to use on my family’s farm and have plans to make a full-sized machine to try in the field. A full-sized Multi-Crop Harvester needs to be built to evaluate the potential of harvest mechanization which are, reduced labor costs, easing workloads on farm workers, lowering skill levels required to work harvesting jobs, and increasing economic sustainability of small and mid-scale mixed vegetable farms.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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.

    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.