Unmet Need: Improved mechanical harvesting techniques for apples and other specialty crop orchards
Harvesting labor accounts for 50% of the total tree fruit production cost and this is expected to continue to rise as labor shortages increase. This presents an urgent need for improved mechanical harvesting techniques in apple and other specialty crop orchards. In addition, growers are adopting new horticulture practices that allow for tree limbs to be trellised to a post or wire because, among other benefits, these trellised systems will be ideal for automated and mechanized harvesting techniques.
The Technology: Harvesting Machine for Formally Trained Orchards
Researchers at Washington State University’s Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural Systems have invented an apparatus for bulk harvesting of apples and other fruit on trellised trees such as fruiting walls. The apparatus has a lifting arm which manipulates a catch frame as well as an apple harvesting attachment. The catch frame consists of multi-layer catch pans, which are inserted into a tree canopy wall and an implement arm which supports the harvesting attachment that engages the apples. A Dual Motor Actuator (DMA) coupled to support shafts is utilized to provide a shaker harmonic pattern and energy to the trellis wires or branches of the trained trees in the orchard. Finally, the apples are removed and caught in the catch pan(s).
• Bulk harvesting of apples and other fruit on trellised trees such as fruiting walls
• This system addresses the need for an improved method for bulk-harvesting of fresh-market apples and like fruit by using a novel end-effector design and catch system working in a cooperative manner
US Patent No. 9,468,146