New Yorkers adapting to weather, labor challenges

Weather is an essential ingredient in growing and moving produce, and Mother Nature’s behavior makes adaptability key.

“We’re dealing in perishable commodities—when you throw in volatile markets, produce, and the up and downs of weather, it poses challenges from attaining pricing and volume to keeping customers happy with a steady flow of what they need,” says James Margiotta, managing member for J Margiotta Company LLC.

“If you’re a farmer or wholesaler that deals in fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re always looking at the weather,” he says, citing how this spring’s heavy rains in Florida had a direct impact on everyone. “Whatever comes to your plate—watermelon, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes—the weather compounds it and keeps us on our toes.”

Stefanie Katzman, executive manager for fourth generation S. Katzman Produce Inc., sees the top two challenges in the industry—weather and labor—as unchanging and impactful.

“Not being able to control the weather,” she notes, is obvious and difficult, but “a limited supply of labor in the fields, with commodities that cannot be machine picked yet,” well, that’s an area of concern where industry voices should be heard. She is, however, optimistic for the future. “Technology is always surprising us.”

For its part, Eric Tuttle, with grower-shipper Kenneth S. Datthyn in Sodus, NY, is continuing “to look at every avenue possible to help us cope with workforce issues.”

One option was explored this year with a trial of PlantTape’s automated transplanting system from Tanimura & Antle, and another is looking into new high-tech equipment to modernize its packing processes.

While harvest results from PlantTape are not yet in, Tuttle reports the transplants were doing well.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.

Courtney Kilian, who is based in Vista, CA, and has worked with both domestic and international growers and organizations, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and California Avocados Direct.