Food contamination from e-coli and salmonella has been in the news as a growing problem with the nation’s food supply. Farmers like David Willoughby produce lettuce, broccoli, celery, cauliflower and spinach in northern California for Dole and are integrating technology in their attempt to keep food free from contamination. There’s a big move towards automation in harvesting.
“Especially in the small crops like spinach and spring mix, things like that, we have completely automated the harvesting to where the product is cut and then cleared of any foreign objects over an air gap where the leaves float across an empty space and anything heavy falls through. And then it goes up and gets rinsed with chlorinated water and then is sent off to the truck in the bins to go to the plant for processing. And we’re also working on that similar system for head lettuce and romaine and cabbage, as well.”
One innovation is global positioning systems, and tractors that steer themselves when making the beds for planting.
“When you start at the end of the field you push the button and it steers a perfectly straight line according to two points that you set on either end of the field. And then that makes all subsequent operations much easier because every bed is dead straight so that you don’t have to sit there and adjust all the subsequent tractors trying to keep a curvy field in order. Since they’re dead straight, it’s much easier and more efficient and everybody can go much faster. And it allows us to bunch up operations where we can do more than one operation with one tractor.”
Willoughby is a third-generation farmer in Salinas Valley, which produces more than 80 percent of the nation’s lettuce. Dole is the largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables, doing business in more than 90 countries.