1 USDA Agricultural Research Service, Appalachian Fruit Research Station, Kearneysville, WV. To whom reprint requests should be addressed:USDA, ARS, Appalachian Fruit Research Station, 2217 Wiltshire Road, Kearneysville, WV 25430-2771; voice: (304) 725-3451, ext. 324; fax: (304) 728-2340
Deciduous tree fruit crops such as apple (Malus domestica), peach (Prunus persica), and sweet cherry (Prunus avium) are not mechanically harvested for the fresh market. Attempts to mechanically harvest these fruits by mass removal techniques have not been successful due to excessive fruit damage caused during detachment, fall through the canopy, and collection. Robotic harvesters have not been commercially accepted due to insufficient fruit recovery. A U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) harvesting concept shows promise for harvesting both fresh market quality apples and sweet cherries. Successful mechanical harvesting of fresh market quality deciduous tree fruit will only occur when plant characteristics and machine designs are integrated into a compatible system. Cultivar characteristics that would facilitate machine harvesting are uniform fruit maturity at harvest, firm fruit that are resistant to mechanical damage, and compact growth habit that produces fruit in narrow canopies and on short/stiff limbs. Engineers must develop new detachment principles that minimize the energy input to effect fruit detachment, and develop durable energy-absorbing catching surfaces/conveyors to eliminate damage during collection of the fruit. As technology advances, sorting and sizing systems might be developed that can be operating on the harvester to eliminate culls in the field and deliver only fresh market quality fruit to the packers.
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