New Mechanical Harvesters for the Florida Citrus Juice Industry

in HortTechnology
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  • 1 Florida Department of Citrus, 700 Experiment Station Road, Lake Alfred, FL 33850.

Hand picking, by snapping each fruit from its stem, has been the traditional method of harvesting Florida oranges (Citrus sinensis) and grapefruit (C. paradisi) for processing. A harvest mechanization program was active from about 1960 to 1985, but mechanical methods were not adopted. In July 1994, a new harvesting research and development program was initiated by the Florida Department of Citrus. The growers are taxed about $0.01/field box of production to fund the program. An industry Advisory Council oversees the program, and recommends projects and funding. The new program has provided training videos to improve hand harvest management/productivity, developed several methods for mechanical harvesting, and discovered/evaluated several fruit abscission agents. Mechanical harvesting use is increasing, and about 6880 of the 237,498 ha (17,000 of the 586,859 acres) of oranges were mechanically harvested during the 2002-03 season. Two mechanical systems can increase labor productivity by 5 to 15 times and reduce unit harvesting cost by 50% or more. Such savings are essential for effective competition in free-trade markets and for operation with resident labor. Many old-style plantings will need to be replaced over the next 10 years. The harvesting program accomplishments are discussed.

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