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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Kearneysville, West Virginia » Appalachian Fruit Research Laboratory » Innovative Fruit Production, Improvement, and Protection » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #339070

Research Project: Production Management Research for Berry Crops

Location: Innovative Fruit Production, Improvement, and Protection

Title: Applying new technologies to transform blueberry harvesting

Author
item Takeda, Fumiomi - Fumi
item Yang, Wei - Oregon State University
item Li, Changying - University Of Georgia
item Freivalds, Andris - Pennsylvania State University
item Xu, Rui - University Of Georgia
item Hu, Bo - Oregon State University
item Williamson, Jeffrey - University Of Florida
item Sargent, Steven - University Of Florida

Submitted to: Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/27/2017
Publication Date: 5/10/2017
Citation: Takeda, F., Yang, W.Q., Li, C., Freivalds, A., Xu, R., Hu, B., Williamson, J., Sargent, S. 2017. Applying new technologies to transform blueberry harvesting. Agronomy. doi: 10.3390/agronomy7020033.

Interpretive Summary: The consumption of the blueberries all over the world has been constantly increasing over the past three decades due to its health benefits. As blueberry production continues to increase, more efficient harvesting technologies are needed in face of labor shortage and rising labor costs. The goal of this research was to increase harvest capacity, efficiency, and fruit quality using semi-mechanical harvesting systems. Hand-held, pneumatic-powered shaker increased harvest capacity as much as 15 times over hand-harvesting. Soft fruit catching surfaces on harvest-assist platform reduced impact damage to that obtained by hand harvesting method. Depending on the technique used to detach blueberries, pneumatic shakers possessed a high degree of detaching blue fruit while minimizing removal of green fruit. The new harvesting method can reduce labor requirements to about 100 hour/hectare/year and help to mitigate the rising labor cost and shortage of workers for harvesting fresh-market quality blueberries.

Technical Abstract: The growth of the blueberry industry in the past three decades has been remarkable. However, labor shortage for hand harvesting, increasingly high labor costs, and low harvest efficiencies are becoming bottlenecks for sustainable development of the fresh market blueberry production. In this study we evaluated semi-mechanical harvesting systems consisting of a harvest-aid platform with soft fruit catching surfaces that collected the fruit detached by portable, hand-held, pneumatic shakers. The softer fruit catching surfaces were not glued to the hard sub-surfaces of the harvest-aid platform, but suspended over them. Harvested fruit was analyzed for firmness, bruise damage, and fruit maturity. Also, the ergonomic aspect of operating powered harvesting equipment was determined. The pneumatic shakers removed 3.5 to 15 times more fruit (g/min) than by hand. Soft fruit catching surfaces reduced impact force and bruise damage. Fruit firmness was higher in fruit harvested by hand compared to that by pneumatic shakers in some, but same in other cultivars. The bruise was less than 8% in fruit harvested by hand and with semi-mechanical harvesting system. The percentage of blue fruit, packable fruit harvested by pneumatic shakers comprised as much as 90% of the total, but less than that of hand-harvested fruit. The ergonomic analysis by electromyography showed that muscle strain in the back, shoulders, and forearms was low in workers operating the light weight, pneumatic shakers that were tethered to the platform with a tool balancer. Energy transfer from shaker head to various parts of blueberry plants as well as to operator’s hands was measured with a miniaturized impact (e.g. acceleration) recording device. Fruit detachment with hand-held pneumatic shakers was satisfactory on most cultivars tested and bruise damage was minimal when the fruit was captured on soft fruit catching surface. The fruit of some cultivars harvested by semi-mechanical harvesting system maintained good quality in cold storage. The new harvesting method can reduce labor requirements to about 100 hour/hectare/year and help to mitigate the rising labor cost and shortage of workers for harvesting fresh-market quality blueberries.