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USDA fund $4.75m blueberry harvesting project

The USDA is funding a $4.75 million collaborative research project focused on increasing the efficiency of blueberry production in the US. Industrial engineers from Penn State university are part of the nine-university, four-year project. 

The proposal, titled “Scale-neutral Harvest-aid System and Sensor Technologies to Improve Harvest Efficiency and Handling of Fresh-market Highbush Blueberries,” is the brainchild of Changying “Charlie” Li, associate professor of biological engineering at the University of Georgia, and includes input from 14 researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Georgia, Michigan State University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Oregon State University, Penn State and Washington State University.

Currently most of the fresh market blueberries in the United States are hand-harvested so increasing high labor costs, shortage of labor and low harvest efficiency can create bottlenecks for further development of the fresh market blueberry industry. 

“The overall goal of this proposal is to develop a multidisciplinary approach to advance harvest efficiency and improve postharvest handling of fresh-market highbush blueberries by developing a scale-neutral harvest-aid system and advanced sensor technologies,” said Li, the principal investigator (PI) of the project.

The blueberry industry has been an important source of economic growth in rural communities, especially for small and medium-sized farms, explained Fumioni Takeda, research horticulturist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, who is a co-PI on the project.

Freivalds is studying the physical impact electronic shaking devices has on workers in blueberry fields while taking into consideration vibration and pressure components. 

“Traditionally, shaking devices have caused too much damage to blueberries for them to be packaged and sold for human consumption; only hand-picked berries are of the quality expected by consumers when they are packaged and sold,” said Freivalds. “So we are looking at using several electronic shakers typically used in olive harvesting operations to determine if one or more of them can be used to harvest berries that are of good enough quality to be packaged and sold, or at the very least, that can be used to make blueberry preserves, jams and other consumable blueberry products in the United States.” 

After Freivalds completes his observations he will report back to the rest of the researchers on the project and recommend the best shaker, from an ergonomics and human factors perspective. His findings will be referenced, along with other researchers’ work, in the designing of a new shaker.

To read the full article on the project, please click here.

Source: newswise.com

Publication date: 4/22/2016


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