Harvesting Issues: Blueberry Harvesters Remain Challenge for Industry

Clint Thompson Berries, Florida, Top Posts

An inside view of an over-the-row mechanical blueberry harvester.

Two issues facing University of Florida (UF)/IFAS scientists regarding the future of blueberry production are machine harvesters and blueberry flavor. Patricio Munoz, UF blueberry breeder, spoke about both issues during the recent American Seed Trade Association webinar last week.

“The major issue that I see for us is the machines that we are using nowadays, they are not to the standards that we need them to be. That’s the issue. We’re still able to harvest. We can harvest our very best cultivars for firmness characteristics,” Munoz said. “However, we need the technology, the machine robotic technology to improve. That’s something we can now work on. We can work on improving the plants. Then we have other people that work on improving the machines. That’s what is needed nowadays.

“The second one is flavor and aroma; our capacity to select new flavors and aroma and I believe they’re going to be well accepted by your consumers.”

According to Jeff Williamson, UF Professor, hand harvesting is the greatest expense for Florida blueberry producers. The lack of labor availability can also limit harvest operations. Mechanical harvesters can also lead to reduced yields by fruit dropping on the ground during harvest or immature fruit being harvested. Fruit can also be bruised from the harvester.

Munoz said there are between 50 and 60 blueberry farms in the state. Florida is the earliest producer of blueberries in the country every year.