Cherry research project shows progress
As part of the quest to develop mechanical harvesting, WSU engineers are developing a vibrating actuator to shake tree limbs and loosen cherries without harming the tree.
An ambitious research project that aims to make sweet cherry production more efficient, profitable, and sustainable marked the half-way point with an informational meeting and tour for growers on November 17.
The four-year project is partially funded with a $3.9 million grant from the federal Specialty Crop Research Initiative and involves scientists and companies in Washington, Michigan, California and Oregon. Horticulturist Dr. Matt Whiting and engineer Dr. Qin Zhang with Washington State University in Prosser are project leaders.
The project addresses the the entire supply chain from growing to marketing and has six main objectives:
1. Develop efficient orchard systems suitable for mechanical harvest, or partial mechanization initially.
2. Find the genes relating to abscission so that new varieties that fall easily from the tree can be developed for mechanical harvesting.
3. Find engineering solutions to improve labor efficiency. Picker Technologies LLC is working on a fruit collection and handling system for cherries and has built a prototype of a mobile harvest platform that will ultimately include an ice machine for cooling the fruit and an on-line defect sorter.
4. Extend shelf-life and consumer appeal with novel packaging.
5. Develop markets for stem-free cherries. Evaluations show that consumers prefer the look and convenience of cherries with stems, but are willing to buy either stemmed or stem free cherries.
6. Analyze the profitability of mechanical harvesting using economic models.
This project is one of many funded by the SCRI, which was established by the 2008 Farm Bill. The initiative is providing $250 million in direct funding for specialty crop research over a five-year period. The Farm Bill also provided $224 million awarded through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Look for more information about research projects benefitting the tree fruit and grape industries in upcoming issues of the Good Fruit Grower magazine.