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Mechanical Harvester Could Revolutionize Citrus IndustryBy Doris Stanley
March 13, 1998
A new mechanical harvester developed by an Agricultural Research Service engineer may revolutionize the citrus industry by giving U.S. growers an edge on the orange market and making them more competitive with Brazilian growers.
Using 12-foot-diameter drums with nylon rods that shake and rotate 5 feet into a tree's foliage, the machine can harvest a 90-pound field box of citrus for 50 cents, compared with the $1.50 it now costs with hand labor. And it can fill the 300 to 400 field boxes of fruit from each orchard acre 15 times faster than hand laborers.
Although most citrus is hand-harvested, trunk shakers--different from foliage shakers--are beginning to be used even though they're effective only in certain types of groves. A chemical must be sprayed on trees to loosen mature fruit when the tree is shaken, but chemicals have not been approved for this purpose. The new foliage shaker doesn't require any fruit-loosening chemicals.
It now costs Florida producers about as much to remove fruit from the tree and deliver it to processors as it does to grow the fruit, so the industry wants to lower harvesting costs. During peak season, Florida growers employ about 45,000 seasonal workers. Hand labor is expensive and may not always be available.
Florida's Department of Citrus has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with ARS to use the new harvester, patterned after an original design built at the ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va. The new harvester was built by Blueberry Equipment, Inc., South Haven, Mich., which licensed the original technology to harvest fresh blueberries. The full story, in the March issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine, also is on the World Wide Web at: