A New Appropriate Technology Machine System to Benefit the Sustainability of Local Organic Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,906.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. John Wilhoit
University of Kentucky


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Vegetables: beets, broccoli


  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    The increased popularity of fresh, local foods has contributed to a steady increase in Kentucky of the number market growers, farmers who sell the bulk of their produce through farmers markets, to restaurants or through small retail outlets, or through community supported agriculture (CSA). Market growers face many challenges that limit their potential for achieving a sustainable level of economic viability in their farming operations. Chief among those challenges is the very high time/labor requirements for market vegetable production. Most market growers are small producers and cannot afford to invest much in mechanization, or to hire much labor, so many of them are caught in a vicious cycle of over-work, unreliable production, and lack of profitability that has caused some growers to quit. 

    Organic vegetalbe production could be a promising outlet with the potential for greater returns for market growers wanting to increase theri level of production, but organic production has many challenges, chief among them being weed control.  A new low-cost, mechanized machine system that specifically addresses the challenges of small-to-intermediate scale organic vegetable production has been developed that combines a wide-stance, three-wheeled prime mover with furrow guidance.  The main benefits of the furrow guidance are exellent precision for cultivating for weed control and and reduced labor requirements for many crop production operations becasue the driver is freed up from the need to steer. 

    This machine system has been proven in two years of work using an old tobacco harvester retrofitted for furrow guidance.  Now a new version of the machine is being built for on-farm research with an organic vegetable producer to determine how much labor it saves him for the production of at least three crops inclusing potatoes, beets, and broccoli.  In addition to trials conducted on this private farm, the project also includes continued work with the original machine on the university research farm, a field day demonstration of the new machine on the private farm in cooperation with the county extension office, and the development and posting of plans for the machine system on the internet in an open-source environment.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The main objective of this project is to develop a new, up-to-date version of an appropriate technology machine system using furrow guidance that has the potential to benefit organic vegetable production for small-to-intermediate size market growers through improved cultivation for weed control and reductions in labor requirements.  Thorugh on-farm research with  a cooperating farmer, techniques and implements for use with this system will be perfected for several organic vegetable crops, and labor requirements will be assessed for the machine system compared to his standard prodcuction practices.  Additonal work with the original version of the machine growing organic crops on the university research farm will also assess labor requirements.  A field demonstration will be conducted to introduce the technology to growers, and design plans will be posted on the internet in an open-source environment so that growers can get the technology for themselves and contribute to further refinements and improvements.

    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.