May 18, 2015
Contest planned to find blueberry harvester

Naturipe wants to hear from innovators, developers and technology integrators who have ideas for a fully functional industrial prototype of an automated blueberry harvester.

Although “The Blue Challenge” is a few weeks away from an official launch and a call for proposals has not been made, Kyla Oberman, Naturipe Farms’ director of marketing, said a website has been created that outlines the basics of the challenge that offers a financial payout of up to $250,000 for submission of the “successful, innovative solution.”

Harvesting blueberries for fresh market is heavily reliant on hand labor, careful and is a slow process, the challenge’s organizers point out.

“Current automated harvesting machinery is inefficient and lacks the new technologies that can enhance consumer satisfaction, reduce food waste (efficiencies and effectiveness) and reduce the reliance on hand harvest labor,” the website states.

In looking for an automated harvester “that will transform the harvesting process of blueberries,” the challenge seeks a machine that meets the following requirements: size and color sensing for maturity fresh picking calibration; careful handling to avoid fruit damage (avoid bumps and drops that damage ripe berries); fills field trays; shows productivity that exceeds the cost of hand harvesting (approximately 500 percent increase from hand-picking); has capability to harvest 24/7, including nighttime when temperatures are low, contributing to higher fruit quality; and mobility capabilities in blueberry fields, considering uneven ground and dusty conditions.

The machine also must have a fabrication cost of less than $500,000 per unit.

“This is an opportunity to establish a strategic partnership with a global leader in berry production to deliver the next generation in blueberry harvesting worldwide,” the website states.

Guidelines require proposals to consider include general specifications on the technologies to consider for the development of the automated harvester; an execution plan, considering the most important milestones for the process; a comprehensive and detailed budget; additional requirements and support needed from Naturipe, and information on previous and relevant achievements with the technologies and other experiences to consider.

Naturipe Farms is a farmer-owned producer of berries in North and South America. Naturipe Farms is a partnership between Hortifruit S.A., Chile; Michigan Blueberry Growers; Naturipe Berry Growers, and Munger Farms.

More information on the challenge, including specific details that will soon be available, can be found here.

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P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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