Mechanically Harvesting Broccoli

Saving Labor Cost in Broccoli Harvest

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Josh Ruiz and Monsanto Seeds have partnered up to harvest broccoli mechanically. Ruiz is vice president of AG operations with Church Brothers Farms in Salinas.

“They brought us a genetic variety of broccoli where the head does sit up higher. When it comes to broccoli, all varieties have their heads mature at different rates,” Ruiz explained.

That being said, the fields must be harvested multiple times as the crop matures. With these new genetics, you can get it all done in one sweep.

“I want it to be as simple for my people because I want them to be happy. Cutting once and moving on is what makes them happy,” Ruiz said.

There are a bunch of growers around California, Arizona and in Mexico; they want to get that ground back and use it one more time before the season’s over.

“This gives them about a month’s worth of time back in their hands, which, in the world we live in, is huge,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he is going to continue to develop mechanical harvesting for other crops.

“Iceberg and Romaine are the next two big projects,” he explained.

Iceberg is known to be the “holy grail.” Ruiz has a prototype in the works, and he’s willing to work with anyone who is willing to partner.

“The Broccoli Project, the last five years, has overwhelmed my team and me, but we are ready for the next challenge,” he said

“My day to day is focused on not only running the AG operations for Church Brothers, but I spend a lot of my day focused on innovation and how can we do things better, quicker, faster, cheaper,” he continued.

Ruiz is passionate about automation and innovation. He is currently working with lettuce, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, spring mix, spinach, and kale.

He said his interest in mechanical harvesting is mostly based out of labor issues, but it goes further from there.

“I see this as the future. I’m not the computer guy, and I’m not the engineer, but I love that stuff, and I want to go find out how to make it possible for me to learn,” he said.

Approximately five years ago, Ruiz began his relations with Monsanto with the Broccoli Project.

“We just unveiled our brand new version of our machine, and I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be out there in the field. You’ll see it going down the Salinas Valley from here on out.”

Labor Contractor Fresh Harvest Deep in Vegetable Harvests

Fresh Harvest Relies on H-2A

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Steve Scaroni, along with his wife Brenda, owns Fresh Harvest, a premier labor provider, staffing and harvesting company for the agricultural industry in the western United States.

Steve Scaroni, with Fresh Harvest.

“Expansion for Fresh Harvest is coming, but the main emphasis is crops related to salads. They even expanded into citrus last year,” Scaroni said.

Fresh Harvest has also expanded into pears. Vegetables are the heart and soul of Fresh Harvest.

“Anything that goes into a salad, a lot of lettuce, romaine, broccoli; we touch a lot of salads every day,” he said.

The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows agricultural employers who expect a shortage in domestic workers to bring non-migrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural services for a temporary or seasonal nature.

“If it wasn’t for H-2A, I wouldn’t be in business,” Scaroni said.

Scaroni explained that the H-2A gets legal workers to serve his customers demands for the services he offers. A majority of the demands are labor and harvesting, along with other farm services.

“We’re bringing up 100 irrigators this year to put throughout the Salinas Valley because our Salinas customers can’t get enough irrigators,” he said.

Laborers that show great work ethic will be able to work for a longer period of time. A worker could technically stay if moved from contract to contract.

“If the timing works, he gets up to three years, but then he has to go back for 90 days,” Scaroni said.