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.
3. Progress Report
As part of a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary effort to advance mechanization technologies for southern highbush blueberries (SCRI grant titled, "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. In 2011, simulated machine harvesting studies were performed on six genotypes characterized as melting-flesh or crisp-flesh types. Internal bruise damage developed quickly in melting-flesh highbush blueberry fruit whether it was dropped on hard or slow-bounce surfaces. Novel genotypes with a crispy-textured fruit developed less bruising during simulated machine-harvesting, and even after seven days in cold storage, fruit firmness was high and showed significantly less bruise impact damage. These studies indicated that the crisp-flesh genotypes are better candidates for machine-harvesting and that the padding on the catch pans at the bottom of the harvester should be comprised of materials with slow bounce characteristics to decrease impact damage.