Labor shortages have emerged as one of the top challenges facing the wine industry, according to a recent survey by UC Davis. In this entry, Fruition Sciences reviews some macro and regional workforce trends we’ve seen in the news. In the current tight labor market, vineyard owners need to manage headcount wisely as harvest time approaches.
The wine industry suffers from an overall declining labor supply trend affecting all areas of agriculture. The Wall Street Journal reports widespread worker shortage across U.S. farms due to a decline in immigration from Mexico and improved opportunities in other areas of the economy. The H-2A immigration program, which is meant to bring in more farm workers from overseas, does not supply enough labor to farmers.
John Azevedo of Jackson Family Wines, as quoted on Wine Business, said “Availability of labor is getting progressively worse every year. We feel it in California as we have a lot of labor intensive agriculture, while it is a bit different across the other states that need farm labor.” The situation in California in particular is complicated by state laws requiring higher minimum wages and overtime pay. The situation requires vineyard owners to “become better winemakers and viticulturists”, according to the Napa Valley Register.
Use latest technologies for improved productivity
Increasingly, vineyard owners are looking for alternatives in order to become more efficient. Our customers rely on Fruition Sciences technology to monitor water use, wood structure, and nitrogen levels to cut down on resource use and labor needs. In a recent entry, we talked about using computer vision to develop canopy and yield estimates and reduce human effort.
There are also other new technologies to improve vineyard management. Machine harvesting, while only adopted by a minority of vineyards, is gaining ground. As more research on machine harvesting and fruit and wine quality becomes available, we expect an uptick in adoption thanks to its superior economics. It’s expected that machine harvesting can save up to one third of labor costs. Optical sorting is also an interesting area to explore. A machine sorter can sort up to 30 tons a day, three times the output of a human crew.
As you make hiring plans for future years, have you considered the full range of choices available? Luckily, new technologies are making it possible for vineyard owners to be more proactive about their decisions. Vineyard owners can now monitor multiple metrics affecting the vineyard and make sure that their workers are focused on areas providing highest returns for the business.
With better understanding of varied needs in the vineyard, workforce challenges can be overcome.
Fruition Sciences offers a full suite of products addressing a variety of vineyard needs to enhance your decision and use your workforce wisely. Our foliar nitrogen mapping product provides detailed maps of nitrogen needs so that vineyards can apply fertilizer where it’s needed. Physiocap provides incremental value to automatic hedgers by identifying where biomass accumulates in your vineyards. Our color mapping product helps vineyards optimize harvesting decisions based on fruit color areas.