11 Oct

Mechanical olive harvesting advances described to Californian growers

By Dan Bryant,

Mechanical harvesting research in California olives during the 2007 season documented greater efficiency with hedgerows over traditional trees, according to Louise Ferguson, University of California, Davis Extension specialist in pomology.

Ferguson explained the 2007 trial results and plans for the 2008 harvest research during a Central California olive day at Exeter recently.

She heads a team including food science experts Diane Barrett and Jean-Xavier Guinard of UC Davis and Jackie Burns, horticulture specialist of the University of Florida. Additional UC Extension personnel and California growers are cooperating.

The table olive industry, caught between general rising costs and expected lower gross returns, and threatened by possible labor shortages and an anticipated short crop this year, is turning to mechanical harvesting for survival.

“We are trying to develop a harvester that will produce commercially marketable processed olives,” Ferguson said. “To do that, the harvester has to have efficient enough fruit removal to beat hand harvest and has to maintain fruit quality for processing.”

It would be very helpful, she added, if a machine could work with an abscission agent sprayed on trees to decrease the force required to remove the fruit. Several abscission-causing compounds are being evaluated.

Reducing the force would increase harvester efficiency and decrease fruit damage. However, pre- and post-harvest treatments might also be needed to counteract undesirable effects such as dropping leaves or immature fruit.

“And we really need to look at pruning current trees and training future trees to make the harvesting more efficient,” she said.

Trials in 2007 near Exeter included work with the experimental DSE 007 harvester from Dave Smith Engineering of Exeter. The original design was developed by Phil Scott of AgRight of Madera and modified by OXBO of Wisconsin before undergoing additional changes to its present form.

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