Jorge Duarte is a Portuguese agronomist who advises berry growers; he was hired by USAID’s agriculture program in Georgia to advise local growers. Duarte visited berry plantations in Georgia twice in April and July 2021.
He spoke about the belief of Georgian producers that manual picking helps to preserve the high quality of berries and thus they sell better on the fresh market. Of course, this is true throughout the world. But it is relevant only when growing old varieties, as in Georgia. The main producing countries are now planting new varieties that are more resistant and adapted to mechanical harvesting.
However, the area planted with new varieties in Georgia is small. According to Duarte, Georgian growers should get acquainted with modern varieties suitable for mechanized harvesting, as they will face even more shortage of labor for manual harvesting in the future.
He told east-fruit.com: “You can mechanize harvesting on any blueberry farm, but the percentage of damaged fruits will vary. The goal of mechanical harvesting is to harvest high quality berries with less losses. For milder varieties such as New Hanover, Star or even Legacy, which can also be soft in extreme temperatures, it will be difficult to use machines without getting a lot of softer berries."
"This is not recommended, but still possible if a producer can handle a higher waste rate. One of the best varieties for mechanical harvesting is Duke, a High Chill variety. There are also good Mid Chill and Low Chill varieties, such as Top Shelf, Blue Ribbon and Suziblue.”