To date, Berry has sold five harvesters – three to West Coast Harvesting in Somis in Ventura County, and plus one unit each to Castro Harvesting in Gonzales and Jackpot Harvesting, both in Monterey County.

These custom harvest companies harvest celery in the Ventura County area from late July to about Thanksgiving and then move to the Salinas area for the remainder of the year.

Berry designed the 14-row harvester to fold up for transport on a low-boy trailer. Once in the field, the two 50-foot sections unfold for harvest.

Benjamin Vasquez, owner, West Coast Harvesting, financed construction of the first harvester. Once built, Vasquez took the harvester to the field. He was so pleased with its performance that he ordered two more.

“The harvester works great in the field. I am very pleased,” Vasquez said.

Among the other benefits the harvester provides is the elimination of the traditional “wheel hump wagon” process.

Traditionally, workers cut the celery and place it on the ground. Packers pick up the celery, grade it, pack it on a wheel hump wagon, and then place it in boxes until the weight reaches about 60 pounds.

The boxes are placed on the ground and loaded onto trucks by hand or by a loader. The hump process is very physically demanding work.

The Eco Ag Harvester eliminates the hump wagon process. Instead, cut stalks are placed on the harvester, cleaned, washed, and packed. Boxes move by conveyor onto pallets which are lifted off the machine and placed on a truck by a mechanical loader.

In the end, the no-hump method reduces physical injuries, and reduces the chance of E. coli contamination from stalk contact with the soil during harvest.

“This new method is safer for workers,” Vasquez explained. “Instead of employees lifting heavy boxes of celery, hand lifting is eliminated. This is a much safer method for employees and reduces the risk of accidents.”

The elimination of the hump process frees up two to three employees to focus on other jobs. While men typically lift heavy boxes and push the hump wagon, the elimination of the strength requirement means men and women can now pack celery. This is especially important given the ever tightening availability of farm workers.

In addition, Berry says the harvester reduces stalk damage by 20 percent to 30 percent versus the hump method. Less damage to the product means better control of the pack and financial savings.

The Eco Ag Harvester carries about 500 gallons of water to wash the celery. A full harvest day requires about two tanks of water.

The machine is hydrostat (hydraulically driven) and moves from zero to 5.5 miles per hour.

All hydraulic controls on the machine are manual with no electrical valves to reduce maintenance and down time.

“We built this harvester to last a long time,” Berry concluded. “Structurally, this is a heavy duty machine.”

He believes the harvester can be tweaked to harvest other hand-picked crops, including cabbage and broccoli.

cblake@farmpress.com