This past Friday, British Columbia based Jealous Fruits started harvesting their cherries at night, finishing into the early morning. “In 2020, we ran a night picking trial with 90 pickers, and were very happy with the results,” says Julie McLachlan with the company. “We saw significant improvements in worker morale and earnings, and improvements in packed cherry quality as well.”
The company’s pickers are very happy with working in the coolest part of the day, delighted with the longer shift, and love the opportunity to increase their earnings. The shift runs from midnight until 9 am, with the possibility to extend an hour if needed. This equates to a 9 to 10-hour daily picking shift. In contrast, day shift picking is from 5 am until noon at latest, for a maximum of 7 hours picking time. “Since our harvest is only 7 weeks long, it is very important for our picking staff to maximize their earnings. In addition, it is also critically important that we harvest all our cherries at optimum maturity, keeping our harvest on schedule,” McLachlan shared.
Staff health and safety
Pickers are equipped with two headlamps to properly illuminate the fruit, ladder and the branches. As it turns out, the pickers find it easier to see the fruit at night with the headlamps, than it is to see the cherries during daylight hours. Staff wear reflective strips, and Jealous’ harvest protocol avoids pickers and tractors being in the same row. Additionally, tractors, trailers and loading areas are well lit. In order to carry out nighttime picking, it is important for staff to be able to sleep comfortably during the heat of the day. “We now have 80 percent of our dormitories air conditioned to facilitate worker comfort, with plans to retrofit the balance of the dorms with AC ahead of next season,” said McLachlan.
Improved fruit quality
Picking during the coolest hours of the day also has a positive impact on cherry quality. “Fruit with a pulp temperature of 15 to 18ºC is much more resistant to damage that may be caused during picking. We see fewer stemless cherries, and markedly less impact damage (which can show later as pitting)," commented McLachlan. Using Mylar tarps to protect against the sun, night picking removes the risk of stem browning almost entirely. During picking, there is either no sun, or very low angle morning sun, keeping both the cherry and its precious stem fresh. In addition, harvesting fruit with a cooler pulp temperature is also environmentally friendly, reducing energy consumption in the plant and resulting in less hydro demand on the hydrocooler.