Santa Cruz Tech Beat


New tech promises farmers to harvest more spinach, reducing labor costs

By Kate Cimini
The Californian

July 31, 2019 — Salinas, CA

(Drawing, above, shows the Harvest Moon spinach guard attached to the front of a spinach harvester. Source: Harvest Moon Automations Inc.)

A new tool to more efficiently harvest Monterey County’s $143 million spinach crop might bring relief for farmers struggling to find enough fieldworkers to pick it.

The spinach guard, developed by Harvest Moon Automations Inc., looks like nothing so much as a series of piano keys, splayed mere inches above the ground. It attaches to the front of a harvester, sticking just a few feet out in front of the machine.

When the tiny cameras positioned above the keys sense irregularities in the spinach — such as downy mildew, bird droppings, or something else you wouldn’t want showing up in your salad — the piano keys depress that patch of spinach, pushing it below the reach of the bandsaw or laser that slices through the stems of spinach leaves.

Last year spinach was the tenth-highest grossing crop in the county, valued at $143,376,000 by the 2018 Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Crop Report. More than 16,000 acres were dedicated to cultivating spinach.

With a dwindling, aging farmworker labor market, Harvest Moon Automations co-founders Stephen Jens and Chris Garnett hope to appeal to farmers who find themselves short on laborers.

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