Apple Harvest Goes Higher-tech


Though the equipment is not yet in widespread use, robotic pickers may be the future of U.S. apple production.

Apple growers graft their trees, care for them, the weather cooperates, bloom goes well in the spring, and fruit begins to weigh down branches.

Next comes harvest—who’s picking the fruit?

Since the seasonal workforce hired to harvest tree fruit varies from one year to the next, and orchardists have stringent regulations for accommodating workers, the industry continues to struggle with having an adequate workforce—hence looking to technology to replace at least some of the humans.

In partnership with Washington state apple growers, Abundant Robotics, Inc. in Hayward, CA, has developed an automated apple-picking system. For the first time in the history of apple harvests, some apples sold in the United States this year will have been plucked off trees by a robot, not a human.

Much like its human counterparts, the machine moves through rows of trees, using artificial intelligence to scan for ripe fruit. When found, a robotic arm with a vacuum gently sucks the apples from their spurs and places them in a bin. Though the equipment is not yet in widespread use, robotic pickers may be the future of U.S. apple production.

Another form of technology revolves around AgTools BB #:355102, a software application that aggregates information from multiple sources (including trade associations, government agencies, and more) to offer users real-time intel on crops, availability, and pricing.

According founder and president Martha Montoya, Irvine-CA based AgTools uses “data algorithms to help manage market volatility, increase profitability, and reduce food waste.”

In the specific case of apples, AgTools could provide users with pricing and volume trends based on current and historical market conditions with variables such as currency fluctuations or geopolitical impacts.

By providing real-time data to partners throughout the supply chain, AgTools aims to reduce communication gaps and simplify decision making—with the ultimate goal of getting perishables to their intended destination and reducing waste.

By Produce Blue Book