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They say that knowledge has a beginning but no end. So are the possibilities with the research performed by UC Berkeley’s Andrew Stevens, Ph.D.

With a background in agricultural economics, Stevens was asking the question, “how do workers’ productivities change with a change in the wage that they’re paid?”

To answer this question, Stevens collaborated with PickTrace to collect data from two different blueberry farms over the course of three years, comparing productivity in relation to wage and temperature. Stevens’ findings reveal that there is a significant decrease in productivity in both high and low temperatures, however, these effects can be mitigated with wage incentives in low temperatures.

“Cool temperatures, between about 50-60° F, are just as bad if not worse than those above 100° F for blueberry picking productivity. It’s not that it’s hard for people to do labor when it’s cool out, it’s that these blueberry pickers are picking with their bare hands, touching this cold fruit right around the temperatures where our fingers lose their dexterity…

“If you put this temperature effect together with the wage responsiveness effect what we see is that increases in the piece rate wage are able to increase productivity at those cool temperatures but not at the really high temperatures,” says Stevens.

The results of this study empower growers to gain a greater awareness of their operation and initiate processes that maximize productivity in various working conditions.

Agricultural Research and Rising Technology

While research in agriculture has always been a viable opportunity, the introduction of new big data technologies in recent years has opened the door for a greater depth of research.  “In a product designed around some output for the grower, you usually collect a lot more data than the grower ever sees, and those underlying data are really rich and allow someone in my position to do really detailed research,” Stevens explains, indicating that this study could not have been performed using information collected with pen and paper.

The rise of AgTech in recent years creates new possibilities for growers and researchers to partner together for a common goal – improving the quality and efficiency of food being produced.

“I think there’s a lot of trust to be built between the research community and the farming community and that can’t be rushed, but I certainly hope that those doors get opened as quickly as they can because there’s so much that we can learn so quickly,” says Stevens.

Stevens will be taking a new position as Assistant Professor in Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University, and will present his paper this summer in Bonn, Germany at a conference focused on labor markets and the environment.

*All research was conducted via a bilateral, open research agreement in which PickTrace provided data consented by the affiliated growers and Stevens performed an independent analysis. Stevens was not paid by PickTrace to conduct this research or present results.

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