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History of Mechanical Citrus Harvesting
1990 to 2008

By Jodie D. Whitney
August 2008

After the severe freezes of the 1980s, citrus production in Florida moved to bedded groves in South Florida to minimize the effects of damaging freezes (1-1). In 1991, fruit prices dropped by about one half & many growers could see future production increasing to near previous levels & anticipated that harvesting labor costs & availability could have a significant effect on profitability. An ad hoc citrus industry harvesting advisory committee was appointed to work with the Lake Alfred CREC on harvesting problems. Initially, the industry was more interested in supporting work on labor aids than on mechanical harvesting. In the early to mid 1990s, there were approximately 50 man-positioner boom machines (Harvesting Systems, Ltd., US Patent No. 3,878,957) (See Photo, Video) being operated as a group to harvest oranges for processing from mature trees, & had been under development since the late 1960s (1-1). Two other machines, the New Way Loader (See Photo, Video) & the Harvest Systems pan machine (See Photo, Video), were labor aids introduced in the early 1990s. These 2 machines were developed mainly to assist a team of laborers without ladders with harvesting processed oranges from the many young, low-yielding trees which had been planted in South Florida. Even though all 3 machines improved laborer productivity, they did not prove to be economically feasible. The Lake Alfred CREC briefly investigated a tractor mounted picking aid donated by Mr. Gerber (See Photo, Video) in 1994-95, but found that 4 harvesters could not (reach) harvest an adequate percentage of fruit inside a mature tree canopy.

Research by the Lake Alfred CREC in the early 1990s focused on fruit quality & harvester productivity of conventional harvesting methods. Citrus picked into a bag as compared to dropping it to the ground had less decay, defective fruit, trash, microflora, & sand (1-2). Manual harvesting rates increased by 10% on shorter, productive trees, & increased with increasing fruit yield & fruit weight (1-3).

In 1993, the ad hoc citrus industry harvesting advisory committee organized a harvesting symposium titled “If We Do Nothing” in Lake Wales & invited key industry personnel. Speakers presented information to show that harvesting was a significant problem & asked for industry support to organize a harvesting think tank to develop ideas & guidelines on how to proceed with solutions to the harvesting problem. In 1994, a harvesting think tank was held at the Lake Alfred CREC & the executive summary included several points (1-1), one of which was to hire a harvesting program director. In January 1995, the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) hired Dr. Galen Brown as Harvesting Program Administrator & funded the program developed by Dr. Brown & approved by the FDOC’s Citrus Harvesting Research Advisory Council. A sub-committee, the Harvesting Labor Management Committee, worked to improve the safety & productivity with conventional harvesting methods & reported to the Council.

For the 1995-96 harvest season, the Council (FDOC) initially funded four mechanical fruit removal devices to be field tested in processed oranges (1-4). These devices were 2 trunk shakers, an experimental continuous travel canopy shaker, & an experimental canopy penetrator. Their development along with other machines will be described below.

Referenced Articles

1-1 A Review of Citrus Harvesting in Florida
1-2 Miller, W. M., J. K. Burns, & J. D. Whitney. 1995. Effects of harvesting practices on damage to Florida grapefruit & orange. Applied Engineering in Agriculture 11(2): 265-269
1-3 Orange Grove Factors Affect Manual Harvest Rate
1-4 Field Test Results with Mechanical Citrus Fruit Removal Devices

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