“In 2018 farmers reported that unfilled vacancies cost agriculture $2.9 billion in lost sales – an increase from 1.5 billion in 2014”. – Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council.
It is no surprise to hear growers, particularly small or family outfits, lamenting on the lack of skilled and unskilled workers and getting left in the lurch during critical times of the year. Trends such as the push for local and organic wines are sure to make the labour problem worse.
Owner-operators care about their vineyards intensely, and they want to be able to control every part of the production process. They just don’t always have the time or energy to perform every task. Mechanisation allows an owner-operator to perform more work and be more involved in each process, making sure it is done to their own standards.
In viticulture there is a narrow window to get a job completed. A hedging job that might take a team of three people one week to perform by hand might take a mechanical hedger one day, ensuring uniformity across the farm. In the same way pre-pruning allows the grower to wait until later in the spring to finish work, giving valuable time to assess winter damage and spring conditions.
Field work is physically demanding, using machines to perform awkward or tedious jobs can help with worker retention, or it might allow an owner-operator to perform a job he or she might have contracted out before.
Big players take advantage of their economy of scale and use machinery to reduce their labour inputs, but it is harder for the smaller grower to justify the large investment in purchasing new equipment. However, there are ways to make mechanisation pay for smaller growers as well.
Used equipment can yield a diamond in the rough, but purchasers should be wary to make sure that their new-to-them machines do not contain outdated designs that might wear out prematurely, and they should ensure that replacement parts are available quickly in a pinch
Equipment sharing allows two or three smaller farms to use their collective power to reduce the purchase price of new machinery. Be sure to lay out the details of any agreement very clearly. Who will and can operate the machine, where it will be stored, and any eventual buy-out options should be determined before partnering to avoid future headaches or disagreements.
Contracting out is another option for small operators. Costs can be offset by running more acres and collecting fees for services. Be sure that time and manpower is available to make this work. The narrow windows for getting operations done in viticulture can present logistical challenges.
Get the right machinery that is designed for small operations. Simple design features and the use of locally available parts can help keep repair and maintenance costs down and reduce turnaround times. The ability to share a mounting system among several pieces of equipment saves the cost of repeatedly having to buy mounts for each machine. It is also handy to be able to get customer service in your own language.
Talk to a specialist who understands your needs. Munckhof Manufacturing are specialists in viticultural equipment and systems that work for small and large operations alike. They have been designing and manufacturing a full line in-house at our facility in Oliver B.C. and have been one of the only viticultural equipment producers in Canada since 1979. Contact us to talk about a solution that fits your operation.
Growers need to take steps to make the most out of the resources they have. Labour is often one of the biggest costs in business, and mechanization not only reduces labour requirements, but it also makes hard work easier and helps increase worker retention.
For more information, visit www.munckhof.com.