1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
To improve production efficiency and product quality of early season highbush blueberries in the southeastern United States by addressing genetic, horticultural, engineering, pathological, postharvest, and marketing challenges associated with mechanical fruit harvesting.
1b.Approach (from AD-416):
Evaluate all aspects associated with mechanical harvestability using plantings of 4 or 5 advanced selections/cultivars from GA, NC, and FL blueberry breeding programs near Gainesville, FL and Tifton, GA. Evaluate trellis and crown restriction treatments to reduce ground loss and improve harvest efficiency.
As part of a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary effort to advance mechanization technologies for southern highbush blueberries (SCRI grant entitled, "Advancing Blueberry Production Efficiency by Enabling Mechanical Harvest, Improving Fruit Quality and Safety, and Managing Emerging Diseases" - Award #2008-51180-18579), we conducted horticultural and engineering experiments to identify barriers that stand in the way of machine-harvesting highbush blueberries for the fresh market. Studies were conducted to quantitatively evaluate commercial blueberry harvesters for the number of impacts and severity of the impacts created by the harvesters on blueberries during machine harvest operation. The harvesters using the slapper and sway action had violent shaking resulting in higher drop distance and a large impact force that increased fruit bruising compared with the rotary harvester. Within the rotary harvester the catch plates accounted for over 30% of all mechanical impacts. The studies provided a better understanding of how the berry fruit interacts with different machine parts. The information is valuable for improving the current mechanical harvesting technologies and advancing highbush blueberry production efficiency.