With labor a constant concern for California producers, farm mechanization research and investment present a viable mitigation approach. Mechanized farming equipment cannot address all the issues related to the continually climbing costs of production, but it can help alleviate some of the pressure. Adoption and implementation of new, smarter farming equipment is becoming more and more attractive to growers.
“We really are – and have been – in a pivotal time when it comes to mechanization and automation. We’ve been really focusing and putting a lot of investment into trying to find different implements that can help us,” said Elizabeth Mosqueda, Assistant Professor at the California State University, Monterey Bay. “Having these implements might be kind of a safeguard for us if the labor shortage does get worse in the future.”
Labor availability has been a continuous challenge in agriculture. Some projections estimate that the issue will continue to become more complex in the years to come. The lack of available workers is being compounded by the increasing costs of labor. “California’s minimum wage has been increasing and is going to continue to increase until 2022. Overtime laws are also increasing as well. That’s why we’ve had this interesting investment in these automated and mechanized implements,” Mosqueda noted.
Working with lettuce growers in the Salinas Valley, Mosqueda has been a part of farm mechanization research investigating its potential. Crops that are particularly labor-intensive, such as many field and row crops, present the most potential for ag-tech innovation. Looking ahead to the continued challenges of labor availability and cost has spurred increased investment in recent years. Farmers have been actively engaging with ag tech companies to collaboratively look for viable answers related to farm mechanization.
“It’s nice that we have a lot of these companies around the area as well as these growers that are totally future-focused in investing and allowing these companies as well as researchers to go in and test these out in their operations,” said Mosqueda. “We have growers that are very future-focused and very willing to help.”