Instead of hiring about 100 workers to harvest his 390 acres and run his shed, he said, he can get by with 11.
There are negative tradeoffs, though, Desert Spring’s Gillis said.
“It saves labor, but you can get a lot of mechanical damage with the varieties we go here,” Gillis said.
Franzoy acknowledged as much.
“You have to watch it, you have to be precise, because damage can cost you,” he said.
There also are some costs involved in mechanically harvesting, but, in the end, the onions that go to market carry a price edge on rivals that are hand-harvested, Franzoy said.
“It makes them more competitive, and they’re just as good as the hand-clipped,” he said.
Hand harvesting remains the predominant method, though, even though it also has its own obstacles, said Steve Smith, president of Pleasant Grove, Utah-based National Onion Inc., which has an office in Las Cruces.
“There are less and less people that are available to work, with more stringent rules on the labor contractors,” he said.
It’s still the way to harvest, said Chris Franzoy, owner of Hatch-based Young Guns Produce Inc.
“All our onions are hand-topped, which is very labor-intensive but still is the best method for our area,” he said.