Welcome To The Machine

Welcome To The Machine

For years now, the apple industry has been in search of a practical and feasible mechanical harvesting system. Thanks to the efforts of a trio of innovators in Michigan, this vision may soon become a reality — and perhaps in a more convenient way than originally thought possible.

For the past year, fruit growers Mike Rasch and Chuck Dietrich, along with Phil Brown of Phil Brown Welding in Conklin, MI, have been tinkering with and modifying the design of an apple harvesting prototype they came up with. The latest version of this unit was unveiled during the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in the Grand Rapids area in early March, and it certainly caught the eye of those in attendance. “Everything looks very encouraging at this point,” says Rasch. “We’re at the point where we have a good design that we can run with.”

The prototype uses a vacuum system, with hoses that can pull the picked fruit into bins on a trailer. Up to four pickers can work at the same time, whether they’re on a platform or picking from the ground.

Flexibility Is Key

Rasch points to a long list of benefits this model provides to a grower, with perhaps the main advantages being adaptability to different equipment, and a modular power supply.

• Ease in accessorizing. This new prototype can be retrofitted to the equipment currently used by the grower. “The key was to make the power unit modular, so it can adapt to anything that can pull it, with or without a bin trailer,” says Rasch. “We’re not counting on just a tractor or platform as a carrying mechanism.” Because the equipment is manufactured at Phil Brown’s operation, it can be connected to the company’s man lifts and box shuttles, along with similar equipment made by other manufacturers.

Award Winner

Phil Brown of Phil Brown Welding, who has played a key role in the development of a new apple harvesting prototype, was recently honored with an Industry Service Award during the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in Grand Rapids, MI, in early March. Accepting the award, Phil was quick to give credit to his wife Dorothy and sons David and Brian. As some of the growers in attendance noted, Phil is not only innovative in developing new equipment, “he can fix anything.”

• More freedom for pickers. “The beauty of the vacuum system is that it does not lock you into a rigid work area,” says Rasch. “You can carry the hose to wherever you are, whether you’re on a platform or on the ground.”

• Minimal bruising. “We’ve been able to pick faster while still ending up with half the bruising that results from hand-picked fruit,” says Brown, who made sure to trial the machine on varieties such as Goldens that are prone to bruising. As the apples move through the hoses, they go through an automatic decelerator until they roll off a fan-like device just inches above the highest filled point of the bin.

The next major focus, says Rasch, is on the durability and production efficiency of the unit, which (along with labor availability) will pave the way for meeting the needs of the grower.

Getting Closer

This past year, Rasch, Dietrich, and Brown formed an LLC called DBR Conveyor Concepts to develop, manufacture, and market the machine. This also includes the process of filing for a patent, which is currently pending. Each of these men brought their experiences in growing, engineering, and manufacturing to the partnership, which they hope will be beneficial.

So far Extension associates including Phil Schwallier at Michigan State University have already tested the device, including evaluating it side-by-side with a hand-picking crew, with positive quality results. As part of a USDA-funded project, they are now preparing to contract with Jim Schupp and Tara Baugher at Penn State University (PSU) for use in Pennsylvania peach and apple orchards this fall. It will be attached to a PSU platform for further evaluation. Assuming all goes well, the next step will be a similar partnership and evaluation with Washington State University’s Karen Lewis and Jim McFerson.

Rasch says there’s already a big interest among growers both nationally and abroad, which means the quicker to market the better. “We need to do some more quality control and durability testing, with more running time, before the end of this year,” says Rasch. Once that happens, each partner hopes it will be full steam ahead. “We’re happy with the input we’ve received at the university level, and I’m encouraged about the chance to get something out there,” Rasch says.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Welcome To The Machine

Featured Stories

CitrusForecast: South Florida Dry Season May See Fair Share Of Damp Days
October 31, 2014
Outlook calls for possible above-normal precipitation around region for fall and winter months. Read More
ProductionDrought Forcing California Growers To Rely On Groundwater
October 31, 2014
While the state issues curtailments to those with junior rights, growers are increasingly relying on groundwater to irrigate their crop. Read More
Crop ProtectionThe Unlikely Parallel Between Human And Plant Health
October 31, 2014
One of the notable national developments in the summer of 2014 was the unexpected occurrence of serious respiratory infections in Read More
VegetablesWhy You Should Be Trialing New Vegetable Varieties
October 31, 2014
Selecting high-performing selections is no easy task. Read More
FruitsCalifornia Growers Sue State Over Drought
October 30, 2014
They claim the State Water Resources Control Board illegally denied water deliveries. Read More
CucurbitsNew Watermelon Planting Program For The Southeast U.S.
October 30, 2014
Sakata seeking to make regional impact by providing in-demand material through several local producers. Read More
Leafy Vegetables3 Can’t-Miss Cabbage Varieties For Florida Growers
October 30, 2014
Reed's Seeds highlights a trio of high-performance selections for Sunshine State producers. Read More
Insect ControlTake Control Of Thrips In Your Greenhouse
October 30, 2014
Why such a foreboding title? Thrips, one of the tiniest pests of greenhouse crops, are the carrier of one of Read More
BerriesManage Black Root Rot Of Strawberry
October 30, 2014
Controls include preplant nematode analysis, three-to-five year crop rotations, and more. Read More
FruitsSexual Evolution May Bear More Fruit In The Orchard
October 30, 2014
Scientists take a closer look at genes and find new plant breeding possibilities. Read More

The Latest

CitrusForecast: South Florida Dry Season May See Fair Share O…
October 31, 2014
Outlook calls for possible above-normal precipitation around region for fall and winter months. Read More
ProductionDrought Forcing California Growers To Rely On Groundwat…
October 31, 2014
While the state issues curtailments to those with junior rights, growers are increasingly relying on groundwater to irrigate their crop. Read More
Crop ProtectionThe Unlikely Parallel Between Human And Plant Health
October 31, 2014
One of the notable national developments in the summer of 2014 was the unexpected occurrence of serious respiratory infections in Read More
VegetablesWhy You Should Be Trialing New Vegetable Varieties
October 31, 2014
Selecting high-performing selections is no easy task. Read More
FruitsCalifornia Growers Sue State Over Drought
October 30, 2014
They claim the State Water Resources Control Board illegally denied water deliveries. Read More
CucurbitsNew Watermelon Planting Program For The Southeast U.S.
October 30, 2014
Sakata seeking to make regional impact by providing in-demand material through several local producers. Read More
Leafy Vegetables3 Can’t-Miss Cabbage Varieties For Florida Grower…
October 30, 2014
Reed's Seeds highlights a trio of high-performance selections for Sunshine State producers. Read More
Insect ControlTake Control Of Thrips In Your Greenhouse
October 30, 2014
Why such a foreboding title? Thrips, one of the tiniest pests of greenhouse crops, are the carrier of one of Read More
BerriesManage Black Root Rot Of Strawberry
October 30, 2014
Controls include preplant nematode analysis, three-to-five year crop rotations, and more. Read More
FruitsSexual Evolution May Bear More Fruit In The Orchard
October 30, 2014
Scientists take a closer look at genes and find new plant breeding possibilities. Read More
Apples & PearsWashington Apples To Restart Shipments To China
October 29, 2014
Agreement reached between U.S. and Chinese governments to reinstate market access after two-year absence. Read More
EquipmentEnter To Win A Kubota At The Washington State Horticult…
October 29, 2014
Attendees have a chance to take home a new utility vehicle courtesy of Wilbur-Ellis and Western Fruit Grower. Read More
CitrusUSDA To Provide $4 Million For Honey Bee Habitat
October 29, 2014
The funds will go toward helping growers implement conservation practices to improve honey bee health. Read More
FruitsHuge California Drought Meeting Planned
October 29, 2014
State, federal officials to meet as forecasts for the coming year look bleak. Read More
PotatoesNew CEO At Black Gold Farms, A Top 100 Grower
October 28, 2014
Eric Halverson takes the reins at the potato operation, while his father Gregg will remain president of the farm’s board of directors. Read More
FruitsValent U.S.A., MGK Enter Into Marketing Agreement
October 28, 2014
Valent U.S.A. to manage the marketing and sales of MGK’s crop protection line of insect control products beginning in April 2015. Read More
VegetablesMultistate Land-Grant University Research Project Contr…
October 28, 2014
The project began in the 1970s as a Regional Initiative and has since expanded Internationally. Read More
FruitsMichigan State Offers Online Database Of Tree Fruit Dis…
October 28, 2014
Search engine helps growers identify several issues in the orchard. Read More