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D.L. Peterson

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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Galen K. Brown

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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Kay P. Gersch, Carl E. Motsenbocker, and Gregory A. Lang

Cayenne pepper fruit adhere tightly to the calyx/receptacle, increasing the cost of hand harvest and restricting mechanical harvest. Eight (8) cayenne pepper genotypes were selected from field observations to characterize fruit detachment forces(FDFs) and examine potential relationships between FDF and other fruit parameters. A preliminary greenhouse experiment revealed two genotypes with consistently lower FDFs and two with consistently higher FDFs over several progressive harvest. A field experiment confirmed these characteristics. No correlation between any fruit parameter and FDF was found to be consistent over the genotypes studied.

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Blair Buckley and Katharine Pee

Ease of pod detachment is an important consideration when selecting cultivars for mechanical harvest at the mature-green stage. Sixteen southernpea cultivars and breeding lines were evaluated for pod detachment force. The cultivars varied in pod detachment force. MN-13 had the largest detachment force with a measurement of 2.18 kg. Royal Cream had the smallest detachment force with a measurement of 1.2 kg. Pod length, pod diameter, pod weight, basal pod fill, and length of peduncle synapse was recorded for each pod sampled for detachment force. There was no clear association between pod detachment force and the five traits.

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Justin R. Morris

Interest in grape juice has risen as the public becomes more aware of natural foods and the specific evidence of healthful benefits of grapes. Among major preharvest conditions that influence quality of grape juice are climate, soil, cultivar, vineyard management, and maturity. Each of these factors exerts its own influence, but complex interactions among these factors must be recognized. For mechanically harvested juice grapes, cultivar takes on special importance to quality and yield as do the production system, harvest machines, postharvest handling systems, and processing method. Grape juice composition has been extensively studied, and production and processing methods have improved over the years. The following discussion deals with developments in grape juice production.

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Reuben B. Beverly, Allen W. Byous, and Tommy Nakayama

Vegetable soybean (Glycine max L.) represents a potential high-value specialty crop for small farmers in the southern Piedmont region of the United States; practical and affordable mechanical harvest technology will facilitate production. A trial planting of vegetable soybean was used to test the ability of a commercial one-row harvester used currently for snap bean and lima bean production systems to harvest soybean. The upright growth habit and excessive herbage of vegetable soybean necessitated harvest in two passes over the row, which produced in-pod yield of 7050 lb/acre (7900 kg ha-1). Adaptation of this technology has the potential to facilitate development of a vegetable soybean production industry.

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Troy A. Larsen* and Christopher S. Cramer

Current onion varieties that are grown in New Mexico were developed for hand harvesting and not for mechanical harvesting. In order for onion production in New Mexico to remain a viable commodity, firmer onion varieties need to be developed for mechanical harvesting. In this study, bulb firmness of onions was examined in short and intermediate-day onion entries comparing a qualitative `finger pressure' method with a digital FFF-series durometer. After harvesting and curing of the onion bulbs, dry outer scales were removed before durometer measurements were taken at two perpendicular points on the vertical center axis of the bulb. Following the durometer measurements, bulb firmness was rated by `finger pressure' applied to multiple points on the vertical center axis. For intermediate and late-maturing entries, durometer measurements and firmness rating were positively correlated in a strong fashion (r = 0.77 to 0.87). Early maturing entries, NMSU 02-25 and NMSU 02-03 both had high durometer averages and firmness ratings. `NuMex Crimson' and `NuMex Crispy' had the highest durometer averages and firmness ratings among intermediate maturing entries while `NuMex Solano' and NMSU 01-06 had the highest among late maturing entries. From our results, the durometer can be useful in providing a quantifiable measure of bulb firmness.

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Gregory E. Welbaum

Seed production in the family Cucurbitaceae is more complicated than in dry-seeded grain crops because seeds mature within a moist fruit and are often held at high moisture content for several weeks before seed harvest. Muskmelon (Cucumis melo L.), a member of this family, was used as a model system to contrast seed development with crops that are dry at maturity. A detailed time course for `Top Mark' fruit and seed development is presented based on previous studies. In muskmelon fruit, precocious germination is inhibited osmotically by the low water potential of the surrounding fruit tissue. Muskmelon seeds exhibit primary dormancy that affects viability very early in development but has a greater effect on seed vigor and is removed by afterripening during dry storage. Osmotically distended or fish-mouth seeds are dead seeds that occur in cucurbit seed lots after aging kills the embryo without disrupting the semipermeable endosperm that completely surrounds and protects the embryo. Cucurbit seed crops should be harvested before the onset of fruit senescence to prevent aging of the seeds inside. Open-pollinated cucurbit seed crops are frequently once-over mechanically harvested. Mechanical harvesting combines seeds from many stages of development into a single seed lot, which may adversely affect quality and increase seed to seed variability. Hand harvesting cucurbit fruit at the optimal stage of development could improve seed quality in some instances but is more costly and time consuming and would increase production costs.

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Tim Righetti

Our efforts are concentrated on quantifying spatial variability for tree vigor, yield, fruit quality, and profit. We use aerial photography to quantify tree vigor. For mechanically harvested hazelnuts, a prototype weight based yield monitor has been evaluated. This approach may also work for quantifying yield in mechanically harvested sweet cherries. For perishable hand-harvested crops, the GPS locations for individual bar-coded bins can be used to calculate bin density and estimate yield. Bar codes can also be used to track quality in the packing-house. Since profit depends on yield, size, and packout, it is not always intuitively obvious which areas of an orchard are most profitable. Defining which areas are most profitable, and identifying the problems associated with low-profit areas (poor yield, small size, storage loss, bruising, culls, etc) is an important step. Identifying areas producing fruit that stores poorly is a high priority. An evaluation of low- and high-profit areas may lead to alternate management plans. Anything from investing in more supervision of harvest labor and initiating different pruning regimes to attempts to obtain more uniform tree vigor can be evaluated. By delineating test areas with GPS boundaries, profit data in future years can quantify the success of different management approaches. For example, concentrating expensive inputs on the portion of trees (30% of total) that may produce the majority of gross returns, while not even harvesting fruit from regions (1% to 5% of total) that consistently produce poor quality fruit may be a sound strategy.

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Tom DeGomez

The wild lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) in Maine and the Maritime Provinces of Canada has been managed for hundreds of years, first by native Americans and more recently by European settlers. Early production practices consisted of periodic free burns over large tracts of land for pruning and weed control. New practices have centered on intensifying production and include flail mow pruning, mechanical harvesting, herbicides for weed control, and monitoring pest populations. Most recently, land smoothing for improved mechanization and leaf sampling for nutrient analysis have been adopted. Land smoothing allows producers with rough land to use labor-saving equipment and apply pesticides more precisely. Leaf analysis predicts nutrient availability much more accurately than soil testing.