Harvesting
According to my children – and myself at times – I’m ancient. I grew up in those heady days before TV remotes and hand-held video games, back when where you stood in a room played a role in whether the TV station would come in clear. I remember when personal computers became mainstream. My first PC was gigantic, composed of three heavy, bulky components that could each serve as a boat anchor. The PC was going to revolutionize work. Hello three-day workweek.
Published in Harvesting
November 1, 2017, Simcoe, Ont – Members of the Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association are finishing a good second consecutive harvest that will let them draw even more distance away from disastrous seasons a few years ago.

"The 2016 growing season brought a good quality harvest and this year will be almost as good," said Mike McArthur, co-owner of Burning Kiln Winery on Front Road just outside St. Williams, who earlier this year finished an eight-year stint as the association's founding chairman. READ MORE
Published in Fruit
October 26, 2017, Portage la Prairie, Man – Many Manitoba potato growers faced nail-biting times this autumn as they struggled to get the crop off.

In the end, however, yields are expected to be similar to last year.

Dave Sawatzky, manager of Keystone Potato Producers Association, said he predicts yields will roughly be on par or slightly better than 2016’s harvest, when Manitoba potato growers brought in 348 hundredweight per acre on average. READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
October 13, 2017, St. Catharines, Ont – Grape harvest is in full swing in Ontario, and the Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO) welcomed the opportunity to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne in the vineyards of grape grower Bill George in Beamsville, Ont.

The Premier had a birds-eye view of the vineyards from the seat of a harvester. The harvest is at the mid-point with white varieties such as Riesling and Chardonnay typically harvested early in the season followed by the later maturing red varieties. While the rain has slowed down harvest this week, the return to warm and dry weather is expected over the next week.

The Grape Growers of Ontario were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the Premier to discuss topics of importance to grape growers and hear first-hand about issues that are impacting farm families. The planned increase in minimum wage is one of the key issues for growers.

“While we appreciate the intent behind the increase in minimum wage to improve the livelihood of minimum wage earners, we explained clearly the impact that it will have on farm families, and are pleased that the Premier understands our issues”, said Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of the GGO.

“Normal labour costs for horticulture farms are about 65 per cent of operating earnings, making it the highest on-farm expense,” added Bill George, vice chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association. “The increase announced for next year can push labour costs to as much as 90 per cent of operating earnings.”

There is a very real need for financial assistance to transition to the higher minimum wage to protect family farms, as well as support for local VQA wine made of 100 per cent Ontario grown grapes to ensure a market for the fruits of their labour.
Published in Associations
October 10, 2017, Beeton, Ont – It’s potato harvest season once again and as storage bins throughout the area begin to fill up with mounds of taters, some farmers are finding themselves in a bit of a high-wire act to ensure they don’t lose their crops.

Mark Vanoostrum, the supply and quality manager for W.D. Potato in Beeton, said the chipping potatoes harvested so far are revealing the effects of all the wacky weather the area experienced this past summer.

One of the big challenges is making sure the potatoes don’t sit too long and turn bad, so timely co-ordination of shipments to potato chip companies is critical. READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
October 3, 2017, Kingston, Ont – Employee labour tracking, cloud based data, and the need for a future of digital food safety documentation were each important aspects when the Ontario Berry Growers Association (OBGA) decided to provide its growers with a high level traceability software, Croptracker.

For the OBGA, the software selection of is the result of the Croptracker team working diligently with Ontario berry growers for the past year to learn and develop berry crop processes and strategies. The most important and beneficial feature berry growers needed was the capability of developing, calculating, and tracking piecework harvest. This allows for growers to track individual employee labour and payout calculations while managing and adjusting piecework rates. With successful implementation, the association saw the opportunity to opt into Croptracker, not only for their food safety and audits, but also for their labour tracking.

Croptracker is a very intuitive program that provides growers with food safety traceability and so much more,” said Kevin Schooley, executive director of the OBGA. “I encourage all berry growers to take advantage of the opportunity to work with this software. It is an Ontario product that understands the needs of growers.”

Croptracker is currently free to all OBGA members.
Published in Companies
September 14, 2017, Guelph, Ont – The potato person who said many years ago “A potato storage is not a hospital” was absolutely right. Diseased or bruised tubers do not get better in storage. Tubers bruised at harvest are easily invaded by soft rot or Fusarium dry rot, which can cause serious economic losses in storage.

Harvest management, in large part, is bruise management. Bruising also affects tuber quality significantly. In order to harvest potatoes with minimum tuber damage, growers need to implement digging, handling and storage management practices that maintain the crop quality for as long as possible after harvest.

Assuming all harvest and handling equipment are mechanically ready to harvest the crop with minimum bruising, there are several tips to preserve the quality of potatoes crop during harvest:
  1. Timely Vine Killing. Killing the vines when tubers are mature makes harvesting easier by reducing the total vine mass moving through the harvester. This allows an easier separation of tubers from vines.
  2. Timely Harvest. Potatoes intended for long term storage should not be harvested until the vines have been dead for at least 14 days to allow for full skin set to occur.
  3. Soil Moisture. Optimal harvest conditions are at 60 to 65 per cent available soil moisture.
  4. Tuber Pulp Temperature. Optimal pulp temperatures for harvest are from 500 F to 600 F. Proper pulp temperature is critical; tubers are very sensitive to bruising when the pulp temperature is below 450 F. If pulp temperatures are above 650 F, tubers become very susceptible to soft rot and Pythium leak. Pulp temperatures above 70 F increase the risk of pink rot tremendously no matter how gently you handle the tubers if there is inoculum in the soil.
  5. Tuber Hydration. An intermediate level of tuber hydration results in the least bruising. Overhydrated tubers dug from wet soil are highly sensitive to shatter bruising especially when the pulp temperature is below 450 F. In addition, tubers harvested from cold, wet soil are more difficult to cure and more prone to breakdown in storage. Slightly dehydrated tubers dug from dry soil are highly sensitive to blackspot bruising.
  6. Reducing Blackspot Bruising. Irrigate soil that is excessively dry before digging to prevent tuber dehydration and blackspot bruising.
  7. Bruise Detection Devices. Try to keep the volume of soil and tubers moving through the digger at capacity at all points of the machine. If bruising is noticeable, use a bruise detection device to determine where in the machinery the tubers are being bruised.
  8. Field Conditions. Do not harvest potatoes from low, poorly drained areas of a field where water may have accumulated and/or dig tests have indicated the presence of tubers infected with late blight.
  9. Train all employees on how to reduce bruising. Harvester operators must be continually on the look out for equipment problems that may be damaging tubers. Ideally, growers should implement a bruise management program that includes all aspects of potato production from planting through harvest.
  10. Harvest when day temperatures are not too warm to avoid tuber infections. Storage rots develop very rapidly at high temperatures and spread easily in storage. If potatoes are harvested at temperatures above 27 C and cool off slowly in storage, the likelihood of storage rots is increased. If warm weather is forecast, dig the crop early in the morning when it is not so warm.
Published in Vegetables
August 28, 2017, Washington - In today’s modern, high-density orchards, growers are constantly seeking new ways to match the biology of their trees with emerging technologies in mechanization. The goal: improve both yields and efficiency.

"It’s true that some technologies don’t exist yet, but the compact, planar architectures with precision canopy management are most suitable for future mechanization and even for robotics," said Matthew Whiting, Washington State University research horticulturist. “So it is kind of an exciting time for what will be a new era of tree fruit production, as more and more technologies become available."

Research labs and research orchards are driving new developments, but in many cases, they’re happening with innovative growers and private companies, he said.

“Growers are innovating with orchard systems and varieties and architectures, and that’s fueling university research in many cases, and conversely, universities are driving new genotypes and how to manage and grow them best,” Whiting said. “It’s all coming together as it has never before, and it is an exciting time.”

At the same time, employing the mechanization tools that already exist can take a variety of forms, across all four seasons.

Those platforms you’re using for harvest? You can use them for pruning, green thinning and training, too.

Two growers whose companies have been pushing forward with platforms, hedgers and other tools shared their insights for automating tasks in winter, spring, summer and fall with Good Fruit Grower.

For Rod Farrow, who farms 520 acres of apples at Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York, the emphasis has been to increase income with high-value varieties and to reach maximum potential income on his standard varieties, Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala.

Almost everything is planted on Budagovsky 9 rootstock in 11-foot by 2-foot spacing, and he’s been planting and pruning to a fruiting wall for almost 18 years.

“It’s less about employing mechanization by season than about deciding the orchard system — as much as anything, making sure the system that you plant now is suitable for robot use,” he said. “If it’s not, you’re going to be in trouble in terms of how you can adapt that new technology, which is coming really fast.”

In the past two years, Farrow also has elected to install 3-foot taller posts in new plantings, allowing for a 2-foot taller system intended to increase production from 60 to 70 bins per acre to a more predictable 80-bin range. READ MORE 
Published in Equipment
August 25, 2017, Aurora, Ont. - The Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association (OFFMA) has launched its new PYO video series. PYO has been an option that farmers have been offering for decades. PYO has been experiencing a resurgence in popularity as more and more people want to connect with their food and understand how it is grown. Thus, it is more attractive than ever for consumers to visit farms and pick their own fruits and vegetables.

The videos can be found on the Ontario Farm Fresh website:
http://ontariofarmfresh.com/consumers/

Apple season will be starting shortly and it would be beneficial for consumers to review the short video before they head out to their favourite apple farm. PYO guidelines are presented in a friendly, interesting manner to ensure that consumers have a safe and enjoyable experience on the farm. Upon viewing the video they will be better prepared knowing what to expect from their farm visit.

OFFMA is a voluntary membership based organization that works with farmers who market directly to the consumer. OFFMA’s mission is to provide knowledge and leadership to help grow the farm fresh experience.
Published in Associations
July 11, 2017, Quebec - Though seemingly endless rain, flooding and cold weather delayed the start of the Quebec season by at least a week compared to the past two years, a warm spell in June put some crops back on track.

“We’re a little late but it could have been worse,” said Andre Plante, executive director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association, who expected some crops to catch up by the end of June.

By June 9, with the incentive of a strong exchange rate, growers were already exporting radishes, leaf lettuce and asparagus, Plante said.

“Since 2012 we have doubled our exports to 48 per cent of what we grow,” he said, “and that will probably increase this year.” READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
July 10, 2017, Quebec - Though cool, wet weather slowed Quebec’s early strawberry production and kept customers waiting longer than they would have liked, the results of the extended growing period are looking spectacular.

“June berries are right on time,” said Jennifer Crawford, interim director of the Quebec Strawberry and Raspberry Growers Association, which represents nearly 500 producers, “and we’re seeing beautiful, productive plants with tons of flowers and large berries.”

Joey Boudreault, business development manager for the Onésime Pouliot farm in Saint-Jean-de-l’Île-d’Orléans, Quebec, finished planting day neutral berries for the fall in mid-June and began harvesting June berries June 20. READ MORE
Published in Fruit
June 27, 2017 – Why do the best fruits seem to have the shortest shelf life? It’s a challenge that plagues fresh fruit markets around the world, and has real implications for consumers and fruit growers.

Now, new research from University of Guelph has led to the development of a product that extends the shelf life of fresh fruits by days and even weeks, and it is showing promise in food insecure regions around the world.

“In people and in fruit, skin shrinks with age — it’s part of the life cycle, as the membranes start losing their tightness,” said Jay Subramanian, Professor of Tree Fruit Breeding and Biotechnology at the University of Guelph, who works from the Vineland research station. “Now we know the enzymes responsible for that process can be slowed.”

The secret, according to Subramanian, is in hexanal, a compound that is naturally produced by every plant in the world. His lab has developed a formulation that includes a higher concentration of hexanal to keep fruit fresh for longer.

Subramanian’s research team began experimenting with applying their formula to sweet cherry and peaches in the Niagara region. They found they were able to extend the shelf life of both fruits and spraying the formula directly on the plant prior to harvest worked as well as using it as a dip for newly harvested fruit.

“Even one day makes a huge difference for some crops,” Subramanian said. “In other fruits like mango or banana you can extend it much longer.”Once the formula is available on the market, Subramanian sees applications on fruit farms across Ontario, including U-pick operations, where an extended season would be beneficial. But the opportunities could also make a significant impact on fruit markets around the world.

Subramanian’s research team was one of only 19 projects worldwide awarded an exclusive research grant from the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, a program governed by the International Development Research Centre and funded through Global Affairs Canada.

The team used the funding to collaborate with colleagues in India and Sri Lanka on mango and banana production. Mangos are one of the top five most-produced fruits in the world, with 80 per cent of the production coming from South Asia. After more than three years, researchers learned that by spraying the formula on mangos before harvest, they were able to delay ripening by up to three weeks.

“A farmer can spray half of his farm with this formulation and harvest it two or three weeks after the first part of the crop has gone to market,” Subramanian said. “It stretches out the season, the farmer doesn’t need to panic and sell all of his fruit at once and a glut is avoided. It has a beautiful trickle-down effect because the farmer has more leverage, and the consumer gets good, fresh fruit for a longer period.”

The team is at work in the second phase of the project applying similar principles to banana crops in African and Caribbean countries, and hopes to also tackle papaya, citrus and other fruits.

The formula has been licensed to a company that is completing regulatory applications and is expected to reach the commercial market within three years.
Published in Research
June 13, 2017, Tampa, FL – Harvest CROO Robotics announced the introduction of their autonomous vehicle. This is a major step towards the completion of the Alpha Unit, which is expected to be picking strawberries in Florida next winter.

As part of Phase I of the National Science Foundation Grant, Harvest CROO Robotics is developing software and hardware tools. They include the vehicle’s GPS navigation system, LIDAR technology, and other camera and sensor features.

The mobile platform is a modified version of a Colby Harvest Pro Machine. With four-wheel steering, turning movement will be smooth and precise, providing a zero turning radius for greater maneuverability than a standard tractor. Special levelling hardware and software has been developed and added to allow the vehicle to compensate for varying bed heights.

The vehicle will carry 16 picking robots through the field and span 6 beds of plants, picking the four middle beds. The Harvest CROO machine is equipped with a dual GPS system. The Harvester uses both GPS systems to interpolate the position of the platform to be able to position the robots precisely over the plants.

“Having the machine navigate the fields autonomously is the culmination of years of work and prototyping,” said Bob Pitzer, Co-Founder and CTO of Harvest CROO. “It is very gratifying to see our team effort come to fruition.”

Harvest CROO Robotics continues to develop and test the latest technology for agricultural robotics. Using the proprietary vision system, all ripe berries will be harvested from the plants.

The fruit will then be transferred up to the platform level of the machine using a series of conveyers. There, the packing module of the machine will perform a secondary inspection and grade the fruit.

Depending on quality, it will either be packed into consumer units, diverted to process trays, or discarded. The use of this technology will improve the quality of the berries picked, reduce energy usage, and increase strawberry yields.

In December, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant worth up to $1 million. Harvest CROO Robotics used part of these funds to bring several highly qualified and experienced individuals on board the project. Scott Jantz, Electrical Engineering Manager, said, “We all feel like we are part of something special.”

While fundraising for the project has been ongoing, the current investment round will likely be closed at the end of July, when field testing of the vehicle is completed. “We will possibly open a new investment round early next year, at a higher valuation.”, stated Gary Wishnatzki, Co-Founder. “The new unit price will reflect the successful deployment of the Alpha Unit, a key milestone.”
Published in Harvesting
June 8, 2017, Vancouver, B.C. – Following a colder, wetter year than the past two seasons, British Columbia’s 700 local blueberry growers are getting ready to start harvesting berries around the first week of July.

“Compared to the last couple of years, it might seem like the B.C. blueberry season is starting late this year. But what we’re expecting in 2017 is actually more in line with the timing of what a ‘normal’ harvest would be,” said BC Blueberry Council board chair Nancy Chong. While picking will start later than last year, a good supply of high-quality blueberries is expected with the season stretching through until mid-September.

The start of the 2017 blueberry harvest in B.C. is expected to be around four weeks later than the start of the 2016 season, when pickers in some areas were out in the field as early as the first week of June.

Much colder temperatures and wetter winter and spring conditions have led to more work in the fields for growers, but made it harder to get out there and take care of tasks such as pruning.

“Last October and November were a bit warmer than usual, but a lot wetter than average, and then in December, we experienced a drastic drop in temperature and high winds. All of these weather conditions resulted in follow-on effects through the winter and spring,” said Chong.

To drive demand for local blueberries in international markets, the British Columbia Blueberry Council continues to regularly attend key international trade shows such as Gulfood in Dubai, Anuga and Fruit Logistica in Germany, Foodex Japan, and Food & Hotel China.
Published in Fruit
May 31, 2017, New Hamburg, Ont. – An Ontario company that developed lunar rovers for the Canadian Space Agency has adapted the technology for use on earth.

The resulting vehicle – called Argo J5 XTR (Xtreme Terrain Robot) — has applications across a variety of industries, including agriculture.

Ontario Drive & Gear Limited (ODG) is well-known to many consumers as the maker of Argo, popular all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that can travel on rough terrain through land and water.

The Argo J5 XTR is an unmanned robotic platform that travels on rough terrain in a variety of conditions ranging from war zones to underground mines — without putting an individual operator at risk. READ MORE
Published in Production
May 8, 2017, Kelowna, BC – BC Tree Fruits recently announced the company has submitted an application to expand its Winfield packinghouse to allow space for a new apple bagging line.

Once approved, the new line would be ready for operation prior to the 2017 apple crop starting this fall and would expand BC Tree Fruits’ capacity by 30 per cent. READ MORE
Published in Companies
May 4, 2017 – Roughly $4 billion worth of apples are harvested in the U.S. each year. Startup Abundant Robotics hopes to suck up some of it with a machine that vacuums ripe fruit off the tree.

Dan Steere, cofounder and CEO of Abundant, says recent tests in Australia, where apple season is under way, proved that the company’s prototype can spot apples roughly as accurately as a human, and pull them down just as gently. The machine deposits apples in the same large crates that human pickers use. READ MORE
Published in Equipment
After fruit and vegetable producers put so much careful attention and effort into planting and tending their crops and orchards, they naturally want to minimize losses due to bruising, nicks and scrapes, temperature issues and so on.
Published in Harvesting
There is nothing like a just picked, tree-ripened apple. At a BC Tree Fruits (BCTF) field day last fall, I was offered a Honeycrisp the size of a grapefruit. It was the first one I had tried and it lived up to its reputation.
Published in Harvesting
March 24, 2017 – On the long journey from the farm to the retailer's shelf, fruits can quickly perish. In particular, the refrigeration inside the cargo containers is not always guaranteed and existing methods for measuring the temperature are not sufficiently reliable. A sensor developed at Empa solves this problem. It looks like a piece of fruit and acts like a piece of fruit – but is actually a spy.

Some fruit travel long distances by the time they reach shops. They are picked, packaged, refrigerated, packed in refrigerated containers, shipped, stored and finally laid out on display. However, not all the cargo makes it safely to its destination. Although fruit is inspected regularly, some of it is damaged or may even perish during the journey. This is because monitoring still has significant scope for improvement.

Although sensors measure the air temperature in the freight container, it is the core temperature of the individual fruit that is decisive for the quality of the fruit. However, up to now, it has only been possible to measure this "invasively", i.e. by inserting a sensor through the skin and into the centre. And even this process has drawbacks. To carry out the measurement, the technician usually takes a piece of fruit from a cardboard box in the front row of pallets in the container, which in turn distorts the result. Fruit that is closer to the outside of the transport container is better refrigerated than fruit on the inside.

Sometimes whole container loads have to be destroyed because the temperatures on the inside of the container did not meet the prescribed guidelines. The U.S. and China, in particular, are extremely strict regarding the importation of fruit and vegetables. If the cargo has not been stored for three weeks at a certain minimum temperature, it is not authorized for sale in the country. Not only does refrigeration serve to maintain the freshness and quality of the fruit, it also kills any larvae, such as moth larvae, which can nest in the fruit. It is therefore essential to prove that the refrigeration has actually penetrated all the fruit in the whole consignment for the required period of time.

In order to guarantee and monitor the temperature within the fruit, researchers at Empa have now developed an artificial fruit sensor. It is the same shape and size as the relevant fruit and also simulates its composition, and can be packed in with the real fruit and travel with it. On arrival at the destination, the data from the sensor can be analyzed relatively quickly and easily. From this, the researchers hope to gain information about the temperature during transportation.

This is important information, primarily for insurance reasons: if a delivery does not meet the quality requirements, the sensor can be used to establish the point in the storage and transport chain at which something went wrong. Initial results are certainly very promising.

"We analyzed the sensors in the Empa refrigeration chamber in detail and all the tests were successful," explains project leader Thijs Defraeye from the Laboratory for Multiscale Studies in Building Physics.

Up to now, a fruit had to be sliced up and a sensor be placed inside. The "spy fruit" is then stuck back. However, this distorts the results as the fruit is damaged.

However, the same sensor does not work for all fruits, as Defraeye explains.

"We are developing separate sensors for each type of fruit, and even for different varieties," he says.

There are currently separate sensors for the Braeburn and Jonagold apple varieties, the Kent mango, oranges and the classic Cavendish banana. In order to simulate the characteristics of the individual types of fruit, the fruit is X-rayed, and a computer algorithm creates the average shape and texture of the fruit. From the literature or based on their own measurements, the researchers then determine the exact composition of the fruit's flesh (usually a combination of water, air and sugar) and simulate this in exactly the same ratio in the laboratory, although not with the original ingredients, instead using a mixture of water, carbohydrates and polystyrene.

This mixture is used to fill the fruit-shaped sensor mould. The mould is produced on a 3D printer. The researchers place the actual sensor inside the artificial fruit, where it records the data, including the core temperature of the fruit. Existing measuring devices on container walls only provide the air temperature, but this is not sufficiently reliable because the fruit can still be too warm on the inside. Although such fruit core simulators already exist in the field of research, they are not yet sufficiently accurate, explains Defraeye. One such example that has been used is balls filled with water with a sensor inside.

"We have conducted comparative tests," says the researcher. "And our filling provided much more accurate data and simulated the behaviour of a real piece of fruit much more reliably at different temperatures."

Initial field tests on the sensors are currently under way and the researchers are now looking for potential industrial partners to manufacture the fruit spies. The investment is certainly likely to be worthwhile. It is estimated that the cost of such a sensor is less than 50 Swiss Francs. The data would only have to be analyzed if something was wrong with the delivered goods. This would then make it possible to efficiently establish where in the process an error had occurred.

Another desirable feature would be to be able to receive the data from the cargo container live and in real time, so that appropriate countermeasures could be taken in the event of abnormal data – thereby potentially saving the fruit cargo. That would require a wireless or Bluetooth connection.

"However, our current fruit sensor cannot do that yet. And the price of the product would, of course, go up," says Defraeye.

But the profits for the companies would probably also go up if the fruit sensors enabled them to supply more goods in perfect condition.
Published in Research
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