New Ag Technology Needed

The search is on for new agricultural technology, with the University of Arizona's help. It's a search driven by looming labor shortages as the aging farmworker population retires and younger people aren't following them into the fields.

"The trend we're seeing in the next 10 years is alarming," said Kurt Nolte, director of the Yuma County Cooperative Extension. "The number of new workers is markedly less. We're looking to alleviate that with mechanization."

Mark Siemens, an agricultural mechanization specialist with the University of Arizona's Yuma Agricultural Center, agrees. He sees new technology not so much displacing workers as freeing up people for other tasks where the human factor is still needed.

A case in point is Yuma County's high-value winter vegetable industry, where thousands of workers labor in the fields at the height of the season. Citrus and melons also remain labor-intensive crops.

"We still need people to plant, thin, weed, irrigate and harvest the crops," Nolte said. "There's still a heavy demand for fieldworkers. The human factor is so valuable. The human eye, touch and feel can't be replaced now."

He estimates that about 50,000 workers are needed in Yuma-area fields, coolers and salad plants at the peak of the winter vegetable and citrus production. There have been mechanical advances to make their workloads easier and to reduce the need for workers, Nolte said.


Contact name: 
Kurt Nolte and Mark Siemens, Yuma County Cooperative Extension
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Released date: 
Apr 6 2010