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Ripe for the picking - Save money, just shake the oranges from the trees

点击量:   时间:2017-09-01 07:02:09

By Jonathan Beard Las Cruces ORANGE growers in Florida are testing a mechanical harvester with nylon arms that gently shakes ripe fruit off the tree. The machine has been adapted from a harvester originally developed for picking blackberries. If it is successful, it will help growers to compete with the lower labour costs of Brazil—so the US could wake up to an all-American glass of orange juice. The harvester’s arms resemble giant hairbrushes about 4 metres in diameter, made up of 2-metre nylon spikes or “bristles” around a central shaft. The brush extends into a tree’s foliage, slowly rotating and moving up and down at the same time. “The spikes penetrate about one and a half metres into the tree’s canopy and shake the branches just hard enough to dislodge the fruit, which then falls onto a conveyor belt,” says Donald Peterson, the US Department of Agriculture engineer who designed the machine. “In tests on two Florida groves, we removed up to 95 per cent of the mature fruit from trees, and its quality was as good as hand-harvested fruit.” The idea for the harvester dates from 1988, when Peterson developed a similar shaking machine to harvest blackberries at the Department of Agriculture’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia. The technology was later extended to blueberries. Citrus growers looking for an alternative to manual labour to lower the cost of harvesting the crop asked him to create the present machine. “The machine harvests between 7 and 9 trees per minute,” says Peterson. “It can be as much as 15 times more efficient than hand labour,