Time and Technique Studies for Assessing Labor Productivity on Diversified Organic Vegetable Farms
AbstractAs regional food purchasing continues to gain consumer interest, an increasing number of diversified vegetable farms have emerged to meet market demand. Many of the small- and midscale vegetable farms selling into local markets, however, face continued challenges concerning the financial decision-making and the viability of their operations. Greater understanding of the consequences of financial, labor, and production-management decisions has the potential to improve the long-term success of these farms. In this exploratory work utilizing a comparative case study approach involving 10 diversified vegetable farms, we conducted time and technique studies to assess labor productivity as related to different farm labor and production management decisions. We focused our analysis on three specific activities (transplanting, harvest, and postharvest handling) for five common crops (broccoli, carrots, lettuce, peppers, and squash). Our results showed tremendous farm-to-farm variation in labor productivity, reflecting the diversity of approaches to production and management. Both mechanization and farm size influenced the time required to complete production and postharvest activities; however, these relationships were not consistent across all crops and activities. While time and technique studies can help farmers to more effectively strategize innovations in production practices and equipment purchases, farm-specific considerations such as crew size, farm land base, and worker welfare will remain important factors for farmers in assessing the consequences of mechanizing any process and of changing their particular management strategy, as well as the appropriateness of adopting technologies in the context of farm scale and resources. Challenges and weaknesses associated with on-farm participatory time and technique studies were identified, leading to recommendations to create a more feasible system for similar data-collection efforts. The data generated by further expansion on our approach can provide diversified vegetable farmers, food system development professionals, and policy-makers with an additional information to contribute to the successful growth and financial status of diversified vegetable farms serving as vital components of strong local and regional food systems.
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