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Design and Field Test of a Low-Cost Apple Harvest-Assist Unit

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 59(5): 1149-1156. (doi: 10.13031/trans.59.11708) @2016
Authors:   Zhao Zhang, Paul H. Heinemann, Jude Liu, James R. Schupp, Tara A. Baugher
Keywords:   Apple bruising, Efficiency, Harvest-assist, Mechanical apple harvest.

Abstract. The U.S. apple industry is facing difficulties because apple production costs have been continuously increasing. Three factors contribute to this situation: close dependence on a large seasonal workforce, increasing labor costs, and decreasing availability of agricultural employees. Apple harvest is the most labor-intensive operation during the production season. An economical apple harvest-assist unit prototype targeting fresh market apples was designed and field tested, aimed at increasing harvest efficiency, reducing harvest-related injuries, and increasing the potential labor pool through decreased working strength requirements. This harvest-assist unit focused on apples in the top of the canopy, which typically require use of ladders for conventional harvest. The unit was field tested for two years, with the first year focusing on identifying the components that caused apple bruising, and the second year focusing on identifying the performance of this unit. After being identified as the major component causing apple bruising, the distributor (a rotating disk used to distribute apples evenly in the bin) was improved and then tested in the second-year experiment. Apple downgrade incidence was reduced to 0% using an optimized distributor rotation speed of 28 rpm. For the apples located in the upper portion of the trees, the harvest-assist unit increased apple harvest efficiency (apples picked per second) by 95% compared with the conventional apple harvest method using ladders.

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