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Mechanical Harvesting of Table Olives
A team of 14 scientists are investigating ways to mechanize the harvest of table grapes in California. Currently, the California table olive industry relies on hand harvesting, however, in recent years the increasing cost and uncertainty of labor have adversely affected California’s competitiveness in the table olive market. The attention of researchers from a variety of disciplines - including plant sciences, agricultural engineering and agricultural economics - has been devoted to the mechanical harvest of table olives, a practice common in the olive oil industry.
Mechanized table harvest is a particularly challenging task because of the high quality standard. There is zero tolerance for bruised fruit in the canned product. The scientists are studying two options – trunk shaking and canopy contact – however both have problems. With age, the trunks of olive trees become stout, fluted and knobby, which hinders mechanical shaking. Canopy contact is complicated by harvest timing. The fruit must be harvested before it is fully ripe, so significant force is required to remove them from the tree. Both methods now produce acceptable olives with about 65 percent harvesting efficiency.