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A precision sorting machine

Four people harvesting apples with a sorting machine.

Precision Sorting Keeps Bad Apples Out of the Bunch

Two other labor-intensive practices that ARS researchers in East Lansing, MI, hope to streamline are fruit harvesting and sorting. In the apple business, for example, harvesting accounts for around 15 percent of total production costs, and postharvest storage and packing can account for one-third or more of those costs. All harvested apples, regardless of their quality grades, are placed in the same bins and then hauled to sheds for storage. However, during harvest, pickers don’t have time to inspect each one. One solution comes from a self-propelled apple-harvest and in-field sorting machine developed by ARS researchers and their industry partners. The current prototype works by transporting harvested fruit to a vision inspection chamber via a system of conveyors. The chamber aligns the apples in single file, separates them equally, rotates them, takes multiple pictures of each fruit, assigns a quality grade, and then sends the graded fruit to a specific bin. Trials indicate that, under certain orchard configurations, growers could achieve gross savings of $34,000 in postharvest storage and packing if the machine was used for one full season.

Related Information

Article: Orchard Management Technology