Vineyard mechanization was a heavily discussed topic at the annual Sustainable Ag Expo in San Luis Obispo. One local vineyard has almost been forced to adopt the technology because of labor challenges.
The Sustainable Ag Expo was headlined this year by presentations on labor challenges and a panel discussion on how those challenges are driving the adoption of mechanization. There has been increased interest in vineyard mechanization from both growers and vendors.
Greg O’Quest, vineyard manager at French Camp Vineyards, participated in the mechanization discussion panel. French Camp Vineyards is located in a remote area of San Luis Obispo County, and O’Quest said he has been using mechanization for several years, almost out of necessity. “The technology we are implementing at French Camp is specifically pruning, shoot thinning and fruit thinning. Really what we are replacing is the labor force,” O’Quest said. “Being so remote, it’s always been difficult, since I started at French Camp, to find labor that we need. So that is the driving force behind the mechanization.”
Growers at the expo had lots of questions for O’Quest. Many asked about the process and how efficiency of the technology is monitored. O’Quest said mechanization in all three processes has not totally eliminated the need for human labor. “We have four or five guys behind the tractors and trailers that are continuously counting and monitoring the work and making sure we are within our harvest goals,” O’Quest said.
Minimum wage and agriculture overtime qualifications will substantially increase over the next five years in California. O’Quest added that this has only reaffirmed his decision to adopt mechanization technologies.