July 22, 2019

New field tool could help California harvest more spinach

A new tool to more efficiently harvest Monterey County’s $143 million spinach crop might bring relief for farmers struggling to find enough fieldworkers to pick it.

According to a story in the Salinas Californian, The spinach guard, developed by Harvest Moon Automation, looks like nothing so much as a series of piano keys, splayed mere inches above the ground. It attaches to the front of a harvester, sticking just a few feet out in front of the machine.

When the tiny cameras positioned above the keys sense irregularities in the spinach — such as downy mildew, bird droppings, or something else you wouldn’t want showing up in your salad — the piano keys depress that patch of spinach, pushing it below the reach of the bandsaw or laser that slices through the stems of spinach leaves.

Last year spinach was the 10th-highest grossing crop in the county, valued at $143,376,000 by the 2018 Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Crop Report. More than 16,000 acres were dedicated to cultivating spinach.

With a dwindling, aging farmworker labor market, Harvest Moon Automation co-founders Stephen Jens and Tom Garnett hope to appeal to farmers who find themselves short on laborers.

After several years of development, the spinach guard is due to hit the market in 2019. Earthbound Farms was among some of the farms that were willing to test out the harvester for Harvest Moon.

This guard, which will cost between $250,000 and $285,000, is made in Boston, where Jens is located, and shipped to the Salinas Valley, where Garnett has spent most of his life. They monitor the machines though data collection to diagnose issues, which they then contract with local Salinas Valley mechanics to fix.


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