'Ramping Up' Workshop Will Examine Mechanization on Vegetable Farms

'Ramping Up' Workshop Will Examine Mechanization on Vegetable Farms

A hoe and a rototiller can get the job done for a home vegetable garden, but commercial and direct-market growers need more tools to produce and move larger volumes of vegetables to market.

Commercial and direct-market growers need tools more complex than a hoe and rototiller to grow and move larger volumes of vegetables to market. That topic will be explored at an August 22 workshop near Grinnell in central Iowa.

The workshop, "Mechanization on Vegetable Farms," will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Andrew and Melissa Dunham's Grinnell Heritage Farm northeast of Grinnell. It is hosted by the Fruit and Vegetable Working Group coordinated by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Value Added Agriculture Extension at Iowa State University.

See specialized equipment and other machinery in operation

The workshop will look at machines that market farmers use for tillage, to plant seeds and transplants, remove weeds, harvest crops and process them in the packing house. The Dunhams grow certified organic vegetables, flowers and herbs on 10 acres and use a mix of hand-operated and mechanically-powered machines. They supply the New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City and Coralville, and sell through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprise and at several farmers markets, including Des Moines.

"We'll have the chance to see several types of specialized equipment in operation in the field as well as other machinery that will be brought in from neighboring farms," says Margaret Smith, ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture specialist who co-leads the working group. Machines include a water wheel transplanter, Williams tine weeder, root underminer, barrel washer and backpack flame weeder.

Labor is a significant obstacle for Iowa fruit and vegetable growers

Labor is a big obstacle for Iowa's fruit and vegetable growers, says the working group's other leader, Malcolm Robertson, also a Leopold Center program specialist. He adds: "From surveys of current growers, we know that labor is a limiting factor for adoption or expansion of horticultural production in Iowa. Part of the answer is to look at how producers can mechanize various parts of their operations, and see firsthand the equipment and practices being used successfully in Iowa."

After the workshop, participants will be treated to a light supper that will include vegetables from Grinnell Heritage Farm prepared by Café Phoenix, a Grinnell restaurant that specializes in local foods. The farm is located at 1933 Penrose Street between Sixth Ave. (Highway 6) and 370th Avenue. For more information about the working group, go to www.valuechains.org/fruitvegetable. The workshop is free and open to the public.

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