Labor Requirements for Hand Labor Growing Aromatic Medicinals
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Bat-Tzion Benjaminson
Posted on: February 21, 2008

I am the grower of aromatic medicinals originating in the Negev desert of Israel. After planting on all of the land I have, I now must find other growers to help meet my customer demand. Most of these growers are very concerned about a labor-intensive crop and do not trust my labor figures. The customer requires "beyond organic" growing protocol so we can pick here only with hand clippers or electric clippers, not machines.

In my business plan, I used 40kg picking capacity/person/day. But in the field I think this will vary widely depending on the crop species, height, density, growth habit, and so forth. How can I get reliable figures on the labor costs without waiting a few years to measure our actual labor?

Also how many perennial transplants installed in ground per person per day?

Can you please direct me to an accepted industry source of labor requirements for hand-planted and hand picked crops? I would especially appreciate knowing about online databases of labor and other herb growing costs.

Your growers SHOULD be concerned about labor intensive crops. The whole concept of small farm agriculture is to farm it, not set it up as a garden. That is how India and China did it two centuries ago. This is what is called "economy of scale." I have no background is using large volumes of labor, having mostly to rely on "Yankee ingenuity" (as a metaphor, building a better cotton gin).

Labor intensive agriculture is usually reserved for flower production, or even some food crops. But certainly NOT aromatic or medicinal crops. That is reserved for wildcrafting, with that now even switching to forest farming techniques. "Beyond organic" would refer to "sustainable agriculture," not doing things by hand.

Those that do choose to garden in this manner will not be around within three years. No one does this, as it is not practical, or even true - being better because it was done by hand. Mexico practices this concept of "labor intensive," and their products are quite inferior to those done by machine.

I think you need to rethink things, especially if you want to expand. As your current buyer becomes more "educated," they also will turn away from more expensive productions. And, this is a common problem with buyers who have NO background in field production or reality of farming. Most of my sales require me to "educate" the buyer.

Your 40 kg/person per day is vague, and not really realistic when discussing Chamomile flowerheads (now harvested from Egypt). That is why I have a flowerhead design that was developed for this and other crops

I have put perennials into row crops by hand, but this is so labor intensive and not nearly as good or reliable as using strawberry transplanters . With most crops, one person is lucky to be able to complete 2 acres per day (like flowers). Specialized machinery is easier on the soil, faster and far more uniform. Be sure to notice the pictures in "Getting Started" PDF, available at

Our country has used labor intensive work forces for several centuries. Originally called "slaves," they are now called "illegal immigrants." There is a need for those who are willing to do work no one else could (in heat,, back-bending, and low income positions). That’s why small farm agriculture is trying to "evolve" into something that makes sense.

If you have a buyer demanding this kind of workforce, you might want to take a closer look at why. Working in a desert is one thing, but using premium land and irrigation (and experience) is quite another. My background (as a Physicist) has ALWAYS been oriented toward proper land and human use for the production of small crops (niche markets).

I would discourage you from this kind of thinking, of growing crops by hand use alone. In fact, tillage and cultivation tools are what make crops and land use superior to those done by hand. It is also far better to green manure cover crops into the soil than doing it by hand.. My oil yields are higher, and my soil conditions better when I no longer need to row crop mints (as an example).

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