From The Harvester, January 1966
Florida’s farmers revolt quietly
One of the quietest revolutions ever to occur
in our nation is evident in Florida agriculture not far from where
fervent shouts of manpower shortages are being issued.
While reams of news copy pour from industrial concerns foretelling of
the marvels many of them are in stages of producing, Florida farmers
work silently in shops as well as in worker-hunger fields turning out
competent crop harvesting machines that would make many industry
magnates drool with envy.
Why the industrial giants can’t cope with the farmers’
machine problems satisfactorily is summed up in the words of one of the
most active designers of the rough, yet effective harvesting
equipment, Vernie Boots of
Belle Glade. Says Mr. Boots: “The engineers who work for industry
just aren’t close enough to the soil to cope with our
One industrial concern spent over $100,000 of farmers’ money in
unsuccessful efforts to build a sweet corn harvesting rig to harvest
Florida’s annual $18 million crop. Soon afterward, private farm
ingenuity turned out a capable machine to the tune of $40,000 followed
by a harvester Mr. Boots designed for Fritz Stein Jr. of Belle Glade
with a $15,000 price tag.
Federal intervention in the farm labor situation acted like a stick
striking a bees’ hive. It stirred the farmers only temporarily
before the agricultural industry settled down to create farm machines
instead of honeycombs. But, like bees also, the farmers didn’t
settle in the same spot, choosing instead to go their own separate
At present, at least four of the state’s top farms either are
working on a sweet corn harvester or are working out the final kinks in
machines they have produced. The same holds true of harvesters for
celery, another crop that demands large amounts of human labor.
Production of farm equipment on the local level is becoming a
permanent profession for such men as Mr. Boots. His son is so enthralled
by the opportunities that are held forth by the fast-jelling profession
that the youngster is doing post-graduate work in agricultural
engineering at the University of Florida and plans after college, to
gain a couple of years experience with his father before setting out on
his own. Mr. Boots’ knowledge of what it takes to pick the crops
came informally and firsthand from working in the celery fields for 15
Construction off the weird-appearing contraptions to cope with the
varying crop-picking requirements perhaps would lead some viewers,
especially those with some engineering background, to think back to the
days of Kittyhawk and Thomas A. Edison.
The machines presently are built to meet the demands of the crops.
The day is seen, however, when just the opposite will occur with crops
being grown to complement the vast array of harvesting items. Such
research already is underway at the state’s experiment stations,
especially at the Everglades Experiment Station in Belle Glade.
Mechanical harvesting isn’t entirely new in Florida. Radishes
in recent years have been picked solely by machines on farms where it is
profitable to produce them. Other crops across the U.S. feeling the
touch of mechanization are onions, sweet potatoes, cucumber, broccoli,
cantaloupes, cauliflower, squash, bush beans, peas, carrots and tomatoes
for processing. Strawberries and blackberries also are getting inventive
The days of the small farmer are almost in the past because of the
higher wages being demanded by a diminishing farm labor force. The days
of complete automation by only the corporate orf wealthy farmer is just
over the horizon. It’s a mechanical age that is coming stealthily
but nevertheless, it’s coming.