Time and Technique Studies for Assessing Labor Productivity on Diversified Organic Vegetable Farms


  • Rachel J. Weil University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Erin M Silva University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • John Hendrickson University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Paul D. Mitchell University of Wisconsin-Madison




Time and Technique Studies, Cost of Production, Organic Agriculture, Diversified Vegetable Farming, Local and Regional Food Systems, Scaling Up


As regional food purchasing continues to gain consumer interest, an increasing number of diver­sified vegetable farms have emerged to meet market demand. Many of the small- and midscale vegetable farms selling into local markets, however, face continued challenges concerning the financial decision-making and the viability of their opera­tions. Greater understanding of the consequences of financial, labor, and production-management decisions has the potential to improve the long-term success of these farms. In this exploratory work utilizing a comparative case study approach involving 10 diversified vegetable farms, we con­ducted time and technique studies to assess labor productivity as related to different farm labor and production management decisions. We focused our analysis on three specific activities (transplanting, harvest, and postharvest handling) for five com­mon crops (broccoli, carrots, lettuce, peppers, and squash). Our results showed tremendous farm-to-farm variation in labor productivity, reflecting the diversity of approaches to production and management. Both mechanization and farm size influenced the time required to complete produc­tion and postharvest activities; however, these relationships were not consistent across all crops and activities. While time and technique studies can help farmers to more effectively strategize innova­tions in production practices and equipment pur­chases, farm-specific considerations such as crew size, farm land base, and worker welfare will remain important factors for farmers in assessing the consequences of mechanizing any process and of changing their particular management strategy, as well as the appropriateness of adopting technol­ogies in the context of farm scale and resources. Challenges and weaknesses associated with on-farm participatory time and technique studies were identified, leading to recommendations to create a more feasible system for similar data-collection efforts. The data generated by further expansion on our approach can provide diversified vegetable farmers, food system development professionals, and policy-makers with an additional information to contribute to the successful growth and financial status of diversified vegetable farms serving as vital components of strong local and regional food systems.


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Author Biographies

Rachel J. Weil, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Agroecology Graduate Program, Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Madison, WI USA

Erin M Silva, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Assistant Professor

Department of Plant Pathology

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

John Hendrickson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Madison, WI USA

Paul D. Mitchell, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Madison, WI USA



How to Cite

Weil, R. J., Silva, E. M., Hendrickson, J., & Mitchell, P. D. (2017). Time and Technique Studies for Assessing Labor Productivity on Diversified Organic Vegetable Farms. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 7(4), 129–148. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2017.074.007

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