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field day

A Platform Based Fresh Blueberry Harvester 
Wei Qiang Yang, Oregon State University Blueberry Extension Agent

'Easy harvester' field experiments.

Traditional over the row (OTR) blueberry harvesters are limited in their ability to successfully harvest high quality fresh blueberries due to internal fruit damage which reduces shelf life. The internal fruit damage during OTR mechanical harvesting is caused by various impact points such as shaking rods, plastic and metal surfaces and hard catch surfaces.

Using an ‘Easy harvester’ platform combined with a pneumatic shaker, we demonstrated that a platform based harvesting system has the potential to harvest fresh quality blueberries. For example, in 2015 field harvesting experiments, the average bruised areas of fruits from ‘Aurora’, ‘Draper’, ‘Legac’, and ‘Liberty’ were comparable to handpicked fruits of these varieties. In ‘Legacy’ blueberry,  the bruised area was less than eight percent in fruit harvested by hand and with an air-powered shaker compared to more than 25 percent in ‘Legacy’ harvested by an OTR harvester. The field experiments indicated a good potential for harvesting fresh-market quality blueberries using hand-held, air-powered shakers and a soft fruit catch surface.

Based on our studies in 2015 and 2016 using the portable and ‘Easy harvester’ platform, a more efficient platform-based system incorporated with hand-held, pneumatic shakers such as the ‘Golia’ model will be developed by USDA and harvester manufacturers. The platform will be large enough to accommodate two workers on each who will operate a hand-held shaking device.

Compared with existing harvesting methods such as OTR harvesters, hand-harvest and the handheld-shaker with portable fruit catch frame, the newly developed mechanical harvesting system will significantly improve harvest efficiency compared with hand-harvest. The workers do not need to position the catch frame under the plant, move the air compressor, shake the fruit off the plant and then handle the fruit collection tray. Because of the elimination of these steps, efficiency is expected to be improved ten to twenty times, compared with hand-harvest. Ground losses are expected to be greatly reduced due to a new design of the conveyance system. A new catch frame design at the base of the harvester will use a deceleration device powered by upward air flow. This would reduce bruising and increase fruit quality substantially.

The new system will be appealing to large and small growers alike, whereas its cost will be substantially lower than a regular OTR harvester and be affordable to small- and medium-sized growers.



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