[fruit larger than targeted for the pack]. But you’ll be able to capture an unlimited number of sizes.”
Also, the ability to change sizes at the click of a mouse on the computer screen is a “valuable asset,” he said. It allows operators to quickly adjust size when a new lot is being packed.
Color separation is another big advantage. The goal of color separation is not to create a lot of color grades, he said, but to have consistent color and sort out extremely dark fruit, which could be damaged or overripe.
“You can uniformly sort out immature fruit and create color grades to match your markets whether it be air shipment or ocean,” Sambado said. “Even with 200 sets of eyes, it’s difficult to sort by color.”
In California, packers deal with a lot of mixed colors, he said, and it’s not uncommon to have 13 different color
separations in a bin of fruit.
Operators must keep in mind that vision systems of electronic sorters must see the entire cherry.
“We’ve learned the importance of singulating fruit [getting fruit into a single row] after cluster cutting, and added two banks of cluster cutting equipment to do so. Leaves also cause misidentification of defects, so all the leaves need to be removed.”
Identifying defects requires a more skilled management team than in the past. Operators must program the computer by variety and by lot. “This isn’t a ‘start up the line and go get a Starbucks coffee’ kind of managing,” Sambado said.
They’ve found that the vision technology will detect cracks, though fresh rain cracks are more difficult to identify than dry rain cracks. Also, cracks at the blossom end are difficult to sort. “But the system can identify ‘soft, brown discoloration’ defects that often are not visible to human sorters. These systems can tell if there is a breakdown in the fruit.”
Disadvantages of the new technology are significant costs and capacity constraints. More skilled personnel are needed, and there is potential for downtime and increased maintenance costs.
“There is potential for lower packouts due to better detection of soft fruit,” he said. “But lower packouts to the grower may be offset by fewer arrival problems and improved sizing.”
Last year, electronic sorting technology was used in 156 lanes in California cherry packing houses, representing about a third of the state’s cherry crop, according to Sambado. He estimated that this year fruit in 272 lanes will be sorted, equaling about half of the state’s production, and next year, 308 lanes, or two-thirds of the crop.
Sambado spoke about the new sorting technology during the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting last December in Wenatchee, Washington. •