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.

Downey Mildew Continues to Challenge Leafy Greens

Downey Mildew Continues to Threaten Lettuce and Spinach

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm Director

One of the many facets that makes California Agriculture so successful is the hard-working group of farm advisors who assist growers with a multitude of plant and pest issues. Steve Koike, plant pathology farm advisor for UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension in Monterey County, noted, “It has been a fairly typical year, and I wouldn’t say any particular new disease has been noteworthy, which is good for the growers.”

Steve Koike, farm advisor of UC ANR Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.
Steve Koike, farm advisor of UC ANR Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.

Koike, whose research focuses primarily on understanding disease systems, identifying new diseases and examining new methods of disease control, said growers “don’t like to see new diseases come out of our work. The main concern, downey mildew, continues to be challenging for both lettuce and spinach growers.”

“We started in the early spring with heavy mildew on both lettuce and spinach crops,” explained Koike, “and it’s remained pretty heavy on lettuce throughout the spring and early summer here. Spinach downey mildew goes up and down, which is not unusual.” he said. “We had some heavy mildew weeks for spinach growers, then we didn’t hear anything, then we heard that it had died down, and then ten days ago there was another surge. It’s one of those things that is hard to predict because it is variable.”

Since starting his farm advising position in 1989, Koike has been involved in educational programs and applied research in vegetable, fruit and ornamental crop diseases. Because downey mildew can overwinter in perennial crops, its continued occurrence is not too surprising.

“Earlier this year, Jim Correll, my cooperator at University of Arkansas, other leaders in the industry and I finally did confirm race 16, a new biotype of downey mildew. A few years ago, it was only race 12; it is moving target,” he noted.

“Although we have confirmed Race 16 on spinach, we are a little concerned because there are reports of disease on some race 16-resistant varieties.” Koike said.

Featured image: Downey Mildew (Source: UCANR Cooperative Extension, Tehama County)

Palo Verde Valley Prepares for Fall Crops

Dr. Vonny Barlow, a UC Cooperative Extension Entomology Farm Advisor in Blythe located in Imperial County, reports the Palo Verde Valley has a lot of activity this time of year.

“Currently we’re transitioning out of the summer crops; temperatures are getting cooler; we’re no longer in the 114° to 116° F zone; and nighttime temperatures are dropping. So we are transitioning to our late fall/winter crops, which is predominantly lettuce in the Palo Verde Valley,” said Barlow.

“A lot of those growers out there are pre-irrigating their fields now to increase soil friability—to break it up so that when they come in and mulch the soil, they can create fine soil and soil particles—because lettuce seed needs good soil contact for it to imbibe water and germinate,” said Barlow.

“The Palo Verde Valley is unique in the desert in that it is a highly productive agricultural region. It’s the second largest alfalfa production in that area outside the San Joaquin Valley, and it actually has greater production than the inner-mountain areas in Northern California. We have plentiful sunshine, good soil types, easily-drained soils, and available water for irrigation, so that’s the trifecta for agriculture,” said Barlow.

Specialty Crop School Scheduled in Salinas Oct. 7-9

Salinas Valley Short-Course to Focus on Business and Regulatory Drivers for Coastal Crops

The October 7-9  Specialty Crop School features California’s Salinas Valley where lettuce, cole crops, strawberries and wine grapes reign.

This intensive 3-day course has been specifically designed for suppliers to specialty crop businesses who require an in-depth understanding of key drivers impacting Salinas Valley growers and their purchasing and management decisions. The year-round production cycle of the Salinas Valley sends fresh leafy greens, vegetables and other cool season crops to markets around the world.

Participants will return to their organizations equipped with new information to refine their business strategies according to new food safety, pest management, traceability and water requirements as well as meeting retailer demands.

The Salinas Valley School, headquartered in Watsonville, will include field visits to farms, processing facilities and research centers as well as discussions with growers, pest management experts, agronomists, regulators and university scientists. Field stops are planned in lettuce, cole crops, artichokes, strawberries, seed production and winegrapes.

Featured speakers include Bonnie Fernandez from the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis; Richard Smith, Monterey County Cooperative Extension; Becky Sisco from the IR-4 Minor Use Registration Program; Richard Spas, CA Department of Pesticide Regulation and representatives from several local farming companies.

Early-bird rates are available until September 10 and registration closes on October 1. Class size is limited and seats are available on a first come, first served basis.

For complete Specialty Crop School course topics and registration information, go to www.specialtycropschool.com