Labor Challenges in Sweet Potatoes

Challenges Are High Demand for Innovation

By Mikenzi Meyers Associate Editor

Harvest for sweet potatoes is in full swing, which means long hours and high labor expenses for producers. Scott Stoddard, of the UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County, knows the difficult task at hand in managing time and money.

With new overtime laws in place, the extended work days during harvest can be costly to farmers. With insight into several operations, Stoddard explained, “Everybody is crunched and trying to get as much as they possibly can get done in a day.”

However, this isn’t the only issue farmers are facing, because although hourly pay is on the rise, labor is becoming more difficult to find.

Stoddard said, “I had a guy tell me last week when I was harvesting sweet potatoes that it is getting a little bit harder to find labor.”

All of these factors, he concluded, are driving forces for mechanical innovation.

Innovation and new pieces of equipment are continuing to “shake up” the industry, Stoddard noted. In a typical operation, it takes two passes in sweet potato fields to eliminate excess vines leading up to harvest. Stoddard said that the new machine is capable of removing vines pre-harvest in just one pass.

“It helps get rid of the extra little vines that are still left over after you flail mow the crop,” he explained.

Although this machine is costly, according to Stoddard, it is estimated to save about one person per harvester, which in the big picture can add up.

“It’s a little tweaking of the system, which will make sweet potato harvest more labor efficient.”

Early Rain Caused Concern for Butte County Rice Growers

Butte County Rice Growers Respond to Early Rain

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

The Butte County Farm Bureau has been working to protect agriculture’s interests since 1917, thanks in large part to the continued hard work of their members. With continued support, the Bureau is able to advocate for growers on important issues in the community and fund educational opportunities.

Colleen Cecil, executive director of the Bureau, observed the rice harvest looks strong for Butte County rice growers, but a weather-related issue caused a bit of a problem during harvest. “We had some wet weather and then we had a break. Then it was, ‘Hurry up and get it done before the next storm comes in,’” said Cecil.

While the weather was an issue for growers, its impact was minimal. “There was a percentage, somewhere in the teens likely, of rice that was still left out in the field after the last wet weather event [in which] we just got pounded with rain,” Cecil noted.

“Water shortages over the past couple of years had forced many rice growers in Northern California to cut back on overall production. However earlier this year, as a result of improved rainfall last winter, growers went back to planting a more average level of rice. Those fields that had been taken out of production had a good amount of rest, and are now producing nicely once again.”

Though not uncommon, growers may have adjusted their harvest schedule in response to the early winter rain. “While it does happen on occasion, it is not ideal for farmers to harvest rice after wet weather all the time. It goes more slowly, it becomes a little messier, and it requires a transition from tires to tracks on their harvesting equipment. Again, it slows it down,” Cecil said.

“In 2013, the average rice grower in Butte County was producing just under 90 sacks per acre, with each sack weighing the [approximately] 100 pounds. Butte County has close to 88 thousand bearing acres of rice. While the local industry remains strong, early rainy weather can put a dent in production.”

Cecil explained, “It wasn’t that they couldn’t get [the rice] out, it was that the crop wasn’t ready to come out. There was still a tremendous amount of moisture in it and it wasn’t at the right percentage of moisture to take out of the field, so they had to wait.”

Last year’s crop report shows that Butte County’s five most valuable crops were walnuts, almonds, rice, prunes and peaches. The area’s walnut crop alone was valued at just under $241 million dollars. Cecil said this year’s harvest, “the almonds came off without a hitch. The walnuts got tagged at the end with the wet weather, but I don’t think it slowed everybody down,” Cecil said.


Featured Photo: Richard and Laurel Nelson’s Farm, Twin Creek Ranch, on Pleasant Grove Road and Marcum, Thursday, September 29, 2016.
Photo Courtesy of California Rice Commission/Brian Baer Photography

Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA)