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

VegetablesClifton Seed Co. Presents Their Latest Vegetable Varieties
November 27, 2014
For more information, contact: Clifton Seed Co. P.O. Box 206 Faison, NC 28341 910-267-2690; fax: 910-267-2692 cliftonseed.com Read More
CitrusBe Willing To Take A ‘Wild Turkey’ Approach To Farm Fixes [Opinion]
November 27, 2014
Editor Frank Giles says Florida Grower will be stepping up to the bully pulpit in 2015 addressing topics that impact the industry the most. Read More
CitrusNew Partnership To Expand ‘Fresh From Florida’ Footprint In Taiwan
November 26, 2014
Latest deal puts exclamation point on successful Asia marketing campaign. Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateCalifornia OKs Asian Citrus Psyllid Insecticide
November 26, 2014
Agriphar Crop Solutions’ Micromite 80WGS is also effective on several other citrus pests. Read More
VegetablesAmerican Takii Presents Its Latest Vegetable Varieties
November 26, 2014
For more information, contact: American Takii 301 Natividad Rd. Salinas, CA 93906 831-443-4901; fax: 831-443-3976 takii.com Read More
FruitsWet December Predicted For Parched California
November 25, 2014
National Weather Service says above-normal precipitation expected; it may continue through the winter in central and southern parts of the Golden State. Read More
Apples & PearsEPA Approves Three New Moth Mating Disruption Products
November 25, 2014
Codling moth and oriental fruit moth are targeted by apple and pear growers. Read More
VegetablesSakata Hosts Annual Fall Field Trials
November 25, 2014
Growers and dealer partners gather to see new varieties at the company's South Florida field station. Read More
VegetablesStokes Seeds Presents Their Latest Vegetable Varieties
November 25, 2014
For more information, contact: Stokes Seeds P.O. Box 548 Buffalo, NY 14240-0548 800-263-7233; fax: 800-272-5560 stokesseeds.com Read More
VegetablesAbbott & Cobb Presents Their Latest Vegetable Varieties
November 25, 2014
For more information, contact: Abbott & Cobb P.O. Box 307 Feasterville, PA 19053 800-245-SEED; fax:215-245-9043 abbotcobb.com Read More

The Latest

VegetablesClifton Seed Co. Presents Their Latest Vegetable Variet…
November 27, 2014
For more information, contact: Clifton Seed Co. P.O. Box 206 Faison, NC 28341 910-267-2690; fax: 910-267-2692 cliftonseed.com Read More
CitrusBe Willing To Take A ‘Wild Turkey’ Approach…
November 27, 2014
Editor Frank Giles says Florida Grower will be stepping up to the bully pulpit in 2015 addressing topics that impact the industry the most. Read More
CitrusNew Partnership To Expand ‘Fresh From Florida’ Foot…
November 26, 2014
Latest deal puts exclamation point on successful Asia marketing campaign. Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateCalifornia OKs Asian Citrus Psyllid Insecticide
November 26, 2014
Agriphar Crop Solutions’ Micromite 80WGS is also effective on several other citrus pests. Read More
VegetablesAmerican Takii Presents Its Latest Vegetable Varieties
November 26, 2014
For more information, contact: American Takii 301 Natividad Rd. Salinas, CA 93906 831-443-4901; fax: 831-443-3976 takii.com Read More
FruitsWet December Predicted For Parched California
November 25, 2014
National Weather Service says above-normal precipitation expected; it may continue through the winter in central and southern parts of the Golden State. Read More
Apples & PearsEPA Approves Three New Moth Mating Disruption Products
November 25, 2014
Codling moth and oriental fruit moth are targeted by apple and pear growers. Read More
VegetablesSakata Hosts Annual Fall Field Trials
November 25, 2014
Growers and dealer partners gather to see new varieties at the company's South Florida field station. Read More
VegetablesStokes Seeds Presents Their Latest Vegetable Varieties
November 25, 2014
For more information, contact: Stokes Seeds P.O. Box 548 Buffalo, NY 14240-0548 800-263-7233; fax: 800-272-5560 stokesseeds.com Read More
VegetablesAbbott & Cobb Presents Their Latest Vegetable Varie…
November 25, 2014
For more information, contact: Abbott & Cobb P.O. Box 307 Feasterville, PA 19053 800-245-SEED; fax:215-245-9043 abbotcobb.com Read More
VegetablesVariety Trials 2014: Rupp Seeds
November 25, 2014
Check out new pumpkins weighing between 18 and 20 pounds as well as new powdery-mildew tolerant butternut squash hybrids. Read More
Food SafetyMultistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked To Bean Sprouts
November 25, 2014
FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with state and local officials continue to investigate the food-borne illness outbreak. Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateCitrus Survey: New Management Techniques Trending
November 25, 2014
Growers widen their tactical approach to survive HLB. Read More
FruitsFruitGrowerConnect Brings Buyers And Sellers Together […
November 25, 2014
Suppliers and growers got down to business in San Diego discussing current needs, solutions, and ways to increase efficiencies on the farm. Read More
Vegetables15 Must Have Carrot Varieties [Slideshow]
November 24, 2014
Browse the slideshow for information on 13 carrot varieties to add to your collection. Read More
CitrusReasons Aplenty Florida Growers Should Feel Good Going …
November 24, 2014
Thanks to recent industry achievements, the next 12-month period is shaping up to be a year to remember --- fondly. Read More
BerriesSuspected Borer Could Be Big Bother To Florida Blueberr…
November 24, 2014
Producers warned to be on the lookout as scientists probe samples. Read More
NutsWatch Your Almonds’ Salt Intake
November 24, 2014
Because of the current California drought, almond growers must pay extra attention to soil salinity. Read More