2022 Virtual Orchard Meet-up Series – Webinar 2

Labour – Expert Panel


Brooke Doer, PennState Law, Center for Agricultural and Shale Law

Phillip Martin, UC Davis – Newsletter, Rural Migration News

John Van de Vegte, OMAFRA, Engineering Specialist

Brooke’s Presentation Overview

Brooke’s presentation consisted mostly of the H-2A program, so not much applicability, but a few interesting notes are below:

  • 33% of H-2A program consisted of fruit and tree nut farms
  • 2010 hourly rate was $9.00, in 2019 it was $12.75, wage rates froze from 2020 to 2022

Phillip’s Presentation Overview

Phillip’s presentations also focused on the H-2A program, but from a different perspective. He noted the following:

  • Farm wages are increasing faster than non-farm wages
  • Labour demand remains stable due to aging workers in U.S.
  • Farm labour cost is increasing 67% by 2025

In response to these changes, Phillip stated that an increase in mechanization, migrant workers and reliance on imports would occur. He also suggested a few changes to the H-2A program including employer self-certification and multi-year visas for workers, turn-key crews trained abroad, and finally fewer and larger recruiters based on economy of scale and reputation.

John’s Presentation Overview

John focused on value-added activities within the operation. For example, bagging apples is value-added, where walking is not a value-added activity. John suggested growers to look at their own operation, whether that be from a specific task or a general overview to make their processes more efficient. In the past he conducted an analysis of various apple orchard operations and inefficiencies ranged from 16 – 20% in over investment of time. This led to further analysis of harvest crew sizes, where he suggested a smaller size of crew would have better efficiencies than a larger crew. In his study, he found that a 22.7% reduction in time to fill a bin occurred with a smaller crew. This is calculated as saving of $8.67 per bin harvested. The study was performed in the same orchard at the same block with the same team on the same day.

Current State: 15 harvesters fill bin in 9 minutes = 2.25 worker/hr/bin

Trial Results: 8 harvesters fill bin in 13 minutes = 1.74 worker/hr/bin

2.25 worker/hr/bin – 1.74 worker/hr/bin = 0.51 worker/hr/bin

John mentioned that although there is an increase in efficiency, there are more logistics to consider. If a process were to change, John suggested that timely communication of the work plan to everyone involved is key for success. He suggested that growers should measure and analyze what is happening in the orchard to see where inefficiencies are and how to maximize value-added activities. This can be performed through a cycle time study.

A suggestion by John was to evaluate the time it takes to move ladders throughout the season. This would give you a better idea on how much your apples cost once they are above your reach, as the higher up the apple, the more expensive the apple is. He further suggested looking at walk times – whether that be for lunch, to the washrooms, to the bins etc., as walking has been the most common inefficient activity.

Of final note from John – Measure it. To become more efficient, you must have data. Measure it, evaluate it, change it, measure it again and compare it. Data driven decisions will make your orchard more efficient.