When it comes to the mechanization of the fruit industry, and the overall goal of reducing reliance on laborers who will soon become unavailable, we understand your confusion, writes David Eddy on GrowingProduce.com. You want simple answers, but if you get one, be wary.
Sure, mechanization is coming. But when? In what form? No one is exactly sure. Orchard design is a huge factor. So is the level of automation. The makeup of skills on harvest crews has to change, but that’s still a real wild card.
Knowing there is no one answer, we decided to send out a short, informal survey. We asked growers, inventors, researchers, suppliers — anyone with an interest in mechanization in the fruit business — three simple questions.
The response level was outstanding, indicating keen interest, including responses from our two previous Apple Grower of the Year winners, Scott McDougall and Rod Farrow. We know it varies by crop, and because of that, we told respondents this was mainly about apples. Even so, there was still a pretty wide range of answers, indicating little agreement. Many were understandably vague, such as West Mathison, President of Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, WA, who said they were supposed to test a unit this fall, but it didn’t work out.
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“Once we get a good view of the potential of mechanization,” he says, “we’ll have adapted our fruiting structures to better utilize the technology.”
But this we know, unequivocally: Things are going to change. The change may come abruptly, not incrementally. It might be like going from putting a cell phone in your pocket each morning to a model that has a little added feature called a computer. If you want a better picture of what may be coming to an orchard near you, read on. We don’t know about you, but we’re intrigued by this sign from the future: “Hand-Picked Apples.”