Automated harvesting requires new and stronger crops
It's no secret that labor shortages are prompting growers to move towards harvest automation. But there is a significant obstacle: not all cultures are suitable for this.
Breeders are aware of the problem and are trying to help growers. Lee Allen talks about this on the portal I www.growingproduce.co.
“There are already some commercial products that benefit growers because they are better suited to mechanical harvesting,” says Rick Falconer, managing director at Rijk Zwaan USA.
For example, parthenocarpic cucumbers, developed by the breeders of the company, have more concentrated fruits on compact plants and are distinguished by a thick skin to avoid damage during mechanized harvesting.
Falconer noted that certain technologies can influence breeding goals, and mentioned the Spanish PlantTape technology, which uses tape with seeds inside and a small amount of culture medium. Compost and seeds are sealed together and then stacked in a tray that will hold 810 plants versus 338 plants in regular trays. A special seeder places seeds in a ribbon and seals them with soil.
The seed requirements for this technology are higher than for ordinary seedlings. They should be distinguished by friendly germination and give strong plants with strong growth, so that all cells work with full efficiency, producing commercially viable seedlings.
The synergy of selection in seed production and agricultural engineering will only increase in the future.
“If we understand the pain points of agricultural technology, breeding can do a lot to solve these problems,” says the expert. “Agriculture has made great strides in crop automation over the past 30 years. Carrots, onions, spinach and tomatoes are good examples when breeding and engineering work together to create sustainable production. ”
Another leader in machine plant breeding is Sakata, which has focused on broccoli.
Offering currently 25 varieties for the industrial production of broccoli, the company recently launched two hybrids. “Emerald Star” and “Godzilla” are characterized by low planting of leaves on the stem, which provides quick cutting and facilitates automated harvesting.
Seminis Vegetable Seeds, a division of Bayer Crop Science, has a similar broccoli development - the plant has fewer large leaves than common broccoli, and pronounced heads of cabbage, which leads to fewer passes and saves time when harvesting with a machine.
Focusing on broccoli is a smart move. The latest study by the US agency Green Giant (5000 respondents, ages 13 to 73) published on National Vegetable Eating Day (yes, there is such a holiday in the US) shows that broccoli is America's favorite vegetable for the second year in a row, overtaking cauliflower and asparagus.
The cost of collecting broccoli is one of the largest cost factors in the production of crops.
“If you think back to the history of growing vegetables, you’ll see that it’s not really innovation,” says John Pursell, Bayer's senior vice president and senior researcher in Vegetable Seed Research and Development.
Fifty years ago, in the selection of tomatoes, genetics and mechanization were also combined.
“If you are thinking about the appropriate characteristics of a 'mechanical' crop, you want the fruits or vegetables to ripen over a longer period of time and very evenly so that you can harvest the best quality. And the thickness of the peel really matters in this case. Breeders are now well prepared to create plants with the required traits. We know the nuances of crop development, such as flowering times, and we know a lot about the genes that control these traits. We understand what kind of genetic package is needed to assemble new packages for gene editing. So we know how to adapt plants to machines, and now we need to work on adapting machines so they can harvest like humans, ”he says.
Research Director at Sakata Seed America, Inc. Jeff Zischke says: “We work with different crops from vegetables to nuts, a little bit of each vegetable, because some varieties have more problems with harvesting than others. In the future, we are looking for ways in which machines containing imaging devices can better recognize plants for harvest - be they broccoli or melon heads. ”
Broccoli, melons and tomatoes, as well as sweet peppers are better suited for automation. And Ziske predicts that the industry will see faster development in these cultures. Especially in the case of melons, whose strong texture allows the use of machine cleaning, saving labor costs.
With vegetables, this is not so simple.
“Developing new varieties of vegetables requires a lot of patience,” says Dutch company Enza Zaden, also involved in the sector. "And by that we really mean patience, as it can take 6 to 12 years before we develop a new vegetable variety and bring it to market."
(Source: www.growingproduce.com. Posted by Lee Allen).
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