Scale-neutral Harvest-aid System and Sensor Technologies to Improve Harvest Efficiency and Handling of Fresh-market Highbush Blueberries

 SCRI Focus Areas:

  • Research in plant breeding, genetics, genomics, and other methods to improve crop characteristics.
  • Efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases
  • Efforts to improve production efficiency, productivity, and profitability in the long term
  • New innovations and technology, including improved mechanization and technologies that delay or inhibit ripening
  • Methods to prevent, detect, monitor, control, and respond to potential food safety hazards in the production efficiency, handling and processing of specialty crops, including fresh produce.

Project Summary:

The U.S. blueberry industry accounts for almost two thirds of the world’s production, constituting an important engine of economic growth in rural communities across the nation. Despite its remarkable growth in the past three decades, a shortage of labor for hand harvesting, the increasingly high labor costs, and low harvest efficiencies are becoming bottlenecks for sustainable development of the fresh market industry. Current mechanical harvesters substantially reduce harvesting costs but still result in significant yield losses, poor fruit quality, and are unaffordable for small- to medium-sized producers. Therefore, an affordable harvesting system that maintains fruit quality and reduces ground loss would be embraced by stakeholders of all farm sizes. This Standard Research and Extension Project will greatly improve harvest efficiency and fruit quality of fresh-market highbush blueberries through a systems approach and transdisciplinary research and extension effort integrating four major themes: (i) achieving high fruit quality and low yield loss by developing an affordable and efficient semi-mechanical, ergonomically optimized harvest-aid and conveyance system; (ii) aiding accelerated breeding for mechanical harvestability by developing high-throughput phenotyping systems using imaging techniques; (iii) developing the next generation berry impact recording device to better understand and improve harvest and postharvest handling systems; and iv) describing the dynamics of potential microbial contamination in the new harvest system. A cross-cutting goal is to conduct outreach, as well as economic and ergonomic studies to promote grower adoption. This project addresses all five focus areas of the SCRI and priorities established in stakeholder surveys.