September 01, 2015      

“With increasing frequency, strawberry growers must let their ripe crops rot in the field because they cannot find the labor to harvest it. The increasing labor shortage is a problem that must eventually be solved by automating the harvesting process. Strawberries are challenging to automate because fields require picking every 3 days to pluck off only the ripe berries and leave flowers and unripe berries undisturbed.

Typically a strawberry field is picked across at least 40 times during the growing season.Several organizations are working on a solution.However, all of the known potential competitors are developing machines that would necessitate growers to radically change the way they grow strawberries.Other systems under development would require growers to farm in expensive greenhouses or change their bed configurations to single plant rows to force the fruit to hang off the side of the bed. Based on our experience, in the strawberry industry, we believe that growers will only adopt these expensive methods if market prices for fruit and labor costs both become substantially higher.

Harvest CROO Robotics (HCR) is taking a different approach that mimics the way the best human harvesters work. Using our machines will require very little modification to how farmers grow strawberries. Unlike other machines being developed, the HCR Strawberry Picker is fully autonomous and will pack berries on the platform, as it travels through the field. Using GPS & LIDAR, for guidance, these machines will not require a human operator. Growers will not be required to make large capital investments, but instead will lease machines from HCR on a per box basis.This emulates how they do business now, which is to pay humans a piece-rate. Key future advantages the invention include; Lower harvest costs. Set harvest rate that will not fluctuate as human rates do. Eliminate rejections due to being short weight by weighing packages of berries, as they are packed. Increase yields by 10% or more by eliminating over packs.

Humans pack berries by sight not by weight and work at least 20 hours per day, including weekends. Avoid picking during the hottest part of the day when berries bruise the easiest. It also takes longer to cool warm fruit. There would be significant energy savings by picking in the evening. Allow for better utilization of cooling facilities and increase throughput by spreading out the load of warm incoming fruit over longer harvest hours. Forecasting production both short & long term to assist marketers in selling the crop. Reduce the usage of plastic by over 30%, by using a film lid versus a clamshell pack. Scout fields and pinpoint problems before they spread, thus reducing pesticide usage.

In summary, the HCR Strawberry Picker is a game-changer because of these key points:

  • Save growers money on harvest costs and improve quality.
  • Will increase growers yields by at least 10%.
  • Save energy at cooling facilities.
  • Assist marketers with better crop forecasts.
  • Reduce the use of plastics by over 30%.
  • Reduce pesticide usage.