The following is an article from a California Agriculture magazine published in the year 2000, and in using two case studies from California, is quite instructive on what it takes to successfully introduce mechanization and automation into a cropping system.
A few summary points about mechanization of harvest and the article linked below.
Success is found in integrated programs of research work: In 1950, a breeder and agricultural engineer at UC Davis worked hand in hand to develop a system for mechanized harvesting of processing tomatoes. The plant breeder developed a tomato that could withstand the stress of mechanical harvest, while the engineer came up with a machine that could successfully remove the tomato from the plant.
The gains are worth the effort: This mechanized harvester reduced the labor requirement per ton of tomatoes to 2.9 hours from 5.3 hours. A similar arc of reduction of labor took place in rice, where combinations of cultural practices, plant breeding and mechanization resulted in a reduction of 4.5 labor hours to harvest a ton of dry rice in the 1930's to 0.4 labor hours to harvest a ton of dry rice in the early eighties.
Success takes time: After 12 years of hard work on the part of the team from UC Davis, the mechanical harvester for processing tomatoes was commercially available. In rice, the large reduction in labor hours noted above took close to fifty years. Nevertheless, they happened.
So what does this all mean for us in the berry business? For one, waiting for Captain Marvelous to show up and build a machine in one go that picks fruit like a person in fields just like we are now growing them doesn't appear to have a precedent.
On the other hand, given the two case histories outlined above I am convinced that an integration of disciplines, a lot of hard work as an industry and the patience to support this endeavor through is what it will take to build the harvester we all want.
The article is very much worth the read, probably not more than 15 minutes of your time. Read it.
Mechanized harvest of tomatoes in California.
No, I don't think so and see for yourself with the photo series below. I have quite a few more of these pictures, but I think you'll get the point with the two series posted.
I've been getting a host of questions concerning what appears to be redberry mite on primocane blackberries - PrimeArk 45 and proprietary varieties - with red druplets mixed in with ripe ones, but if one marks the fruit and waits for a couple of days the red druplets have ripened fully. Now, the question is how this uneven maturity affects fruit quality, but that is something to be answered another day.
July 11, 2017 fruit 1.
July 13, 2017 fruit 1.
July 11, 2017. Fruit 2.
July 13, 2017. Fruit 2.
A recent page one article in a major American newspaper lamented the declining number of skilled botanists in the US. Something about animals being more interesting, with the net result that we are left with very few people who can distinguish between hydrangeas and rhododendrons, and speak intelligently about the difference in plants of thorns, spines and prickles (each arises from a different biological systems).
Well, lament no more my friends. Our Environmental Horticulture Farm Advisor, Steve Tjosvold, who is a botanist par excellence, has offered to share his 30+ years in the field with us on this subject and many others on his just launched nursery and flower grower blog.
Have a look:
I've had a request for the link to the article from a dear reader, it's right below. It seems that these Wall Street Journal links are not free, I apologize for that, but you have my commitment that I will explain clearly what the article is about in my posts.
It looks like even the Wall Street Journal has caught the urban farming bug. Link to article below out of their "The Future of Everything" series, followed by my comments.
I find it utterly mind-blowing the obsession with pollination indoors. Strawberries are self-pollinated and do pretty well in the absence of bees, it is even noted in the article towards the end that a grower who spends a lot of time with her plants already doesn't see any issues.
No mention of Botrytis grey mold, which in a windless, less than ideally ventilated space must be a fearsome problem. Ditto mites. All of this is lost on the obsession with pollination.
Instead, the indoor growers really should be focusing on light (intensity and length) and temperature, and I'd personally invest some time on seeing responses to different chill times pre-plant. Would it even be possible to artificially chill plants in the closed environment after fruit production as a form of renovation? Now THAT would be interesting and possibly yield big dividends, certainly much more than getting one's shorts in a twist about pollination.
Nice quote by Gerald from the CalPoly Strawberry Center, bringing everyone back to reality on what it is going to cost to farm berries like this.
Paper: Evaluating the Utility of an Electrostatic Sprayer and a Tractor Mounted Vacuum for Lygus Management in Strawberry
Former UCCE Entomology Advisor Shimat Joseph and I just had the linked paper below published in Crop Protection.
Excellent overview of the lygus problem in California strawberries and evaluation of a combination of bug-vac use and the insecticide sulfoxaflor (not registered yet, but useful for this study since it actually works) for management of this pest.
A few points out of the paper to take back to the farm:
1- The use of the bug-vac alone was not sufficient to reduce lygus populations to below that of the untreated check.
2- Treatments using the insecticide sulfoxaflor alone and in combination with the bug-vac reduced the numbers of lygus and the number of cat faced fruit.
3- Neither the bug-vac or sulfoxaflor had any effect on predaceous heteropterans and spiders compared to the untreated check.
The implication out of this work and paper is that the use of an effective insecticide will continue to be the best tactic for control of lygus and mitigation of its damage in strawberries.
Link is here, it will be active until the beginning of October: