Aug 26, 2015
Naturipe seeks a new blueberry harvester

Naturipe Farms is taking matters into its own hands concerning the blueberry industry’s need to improve harvest technology.

The blueberry grower and marketer is challenging “creative technology minds” to innovate a better way to harvest blueberries. Naturipe is calling for “industry innovators and creative geniuses all over to develop the next generation in automated blueberry harvesting technology.”

“As consumer demand for blueberries is at a record high, farmers are issuing a call for brainpower and offering $250,000 in prize incentives for new solutions that can improve automated blueberry harvesting,” said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing, Naturipe.

“There has been tremendous growth and interest in agricultural technology, robotics and sensory equipment to improve harvesting efficiencies, to manage costs and to reduce food waste,” Verloop said. “We hope the ‘Naturipe Blue Challenge’ will help solve some of our on-the-farm challenges.”

Technology transfer consulting company yet2 is managing the submissions for Naturipe Farms.

“Naturipe’s goal is to develop an automated harvesting system that can be used in blueberry fields and optimize the quality and condition of fresh blueberries destined for the fresh produce departments of supermarkets and restaurants,” Verloop said in a news release. “Blueberries continue to grow in popularity due to their nutritional benefits, versatility and overall great flavor. Today, only blueberries destined to be frozen, juiced, dried or used as an ingredient item are harvested by machine, which is not efficient and not well suited for fresh blueberries.

“The majority of the blueberries are picked by hand at the peak of maturity and flavor,” Verloop said. “However, the berries don’t ripen at the same time, so we return to the same bush several times during the harvest season, which is both costly and a labor-intensive process.”

In addition to the $250,000 prize, the winner(s) will have the opportunity to establish a strategic partnership with Naturipe and to deliver the next generation in automated blueberry harvesting technologies worldwide, Verloop said.
Just what features are the project coordinators seeking? The main operating specifications are expected to include:

  • Size and color sensing for detecting fruit maturity.
  • Careful handling to avoid any damage to the fruit.
  • The ability to fill field trans and/or baskets.
  • Average production of 500 kilograms per day.
  • Around-the-clock harvesting capability, to include nighttime when low temperatures contribute to higher fruit quality.
  • Mobility capabilities on uneven ground and in dusty conditions.
  • Fabrication costs per unit of less than $500,000.

Additional “favorable features,” according to the project’s proposed specifications, are the ability to detect pests and disease; fruit firmness detection; the ability to register the harvested performance per plant; and to be georeferenced.

The initial proposal submission deadline is Sept. 30. All proposals submitted by that date will receive thorough feedback from yet2 by Oct. 16, to be incorporated into the final submission. The final proposal submission deadline is Oct. 30. Semifinalists will be selected on Dec. 16.

For more information or to submit an expression of interest for the harvester challenge, click here.

– Gary Pullano

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