Novel Vacuum Fruit Harvester

2009 Annual Report for FNC08-719

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Michael Rasch
Westridge Orchards

Novel Vacuum Fruit Harvester


We built a second vacuum/receiving chamber modeled after our first prototype. Both were mounted side by side with a central/common hydraulic drive system for both which allowed them to deliver the fruit from each one onto the same distributor rotary table also driven from the same central/ common drive. Also incorporated a single right angle gearbox in the drive system allowing the right ratio: drive speed for all internal components in the chambers as well as the distributor table. Added another vacuum pump, built filters and a common silencer. Plumbed all along a 24’-8” I-beam to the chamber assembly attached to the end of the I-beam along with an electrical actuator to raised and lower the assembly in and out of each bin as it filled with fruit. The length of beam allowed the unit to travel from bin to bin to fill all five bins on existing bin trailer already used at harvest. Only now the bin trailer is hooked to and pulled by the carrying mechanism. We used-a four man self-propelled lift unit (Brownie II), also built for harvesting as well as other annual cultural practices such as trimming, thinning, etc.

The whole vacuum harvester (chambers and components) are easily attached and removed from the self propelled drive unit as well as a quick attach hitch for a five bin trailer delivered with empty bins and removed with full bins by a tractor and operator.
Also used funds to build and experiment with different styles and diameters of padded hoses to convey fruit as well as mechanical and engineered devices to allow hoses and hydraulic lines to travel along with rest of boom (I-beam) assembly.

In summary we used the 50% disbursement to cover new components, labor and materials to fabricate everything needed to get an efficient working multi-person picking platform completed enough to run and demonstrate at outreach field trials in fall of 2009. Remaining funds will go towards same input costs as outlined in budget.

The results where very encouraging. Data collected by MSU extension personal showed our fruit damage; ex: bruising, punctures, cuts; were less than ½ than amount that occurred with conventional hand picked fruit. This data was collected in side by side trials in the same blocks, varieties, dates, and conditions as regular conventional harvest. Also worker efficiency improved; less fatigue, productivity increased and quality control improved, all of which would greatly increase grower returns and help broaden source of labor; ex: less physical more local help able to do job.

Build on other carrying mechanisms; ex: single man or two man units’ mounted/accessorizing tractors, lifts, trailers or any other existing equipment that can supply power HP and hydraulic volume needed to drive and carry unit(s).

Also testing new vacuum chamber design that looks as if it will need less HP to run and be more efficient; ex: less vacuum loss, smaller and less costly vacuum blower.

• Oct. thru Nov. of 2009 various harvest dates at Chuck Rasch Orchards where MSU extension and growers were shown the harvester and data was collected.
• Nov. 6th, 2009 was a field trial day at Mike Raschs’ Orchard where approximately 50 people, local growers, university personal, and SARE representatives, came to see the harvester. Based on what was seen, there was an article written about it in the Fruit Growers News. Various photos and DVD’s were shown at the Grand Rapids Fruit and Vegetable trade show. Also I have been asked to speak at the NCR-SARE Farmers Forum being held at the 2010 Michigan Family Farms Conference: “Holding on to Good Food, Good Families and Good Farms" in Battle Creek on Jan. 16th, 2010.