At its peak, the system — nicknamed Oz in honor of its Australian heritage — can sort 25 tons per hour, said Fab Santos, GP Graders operations manager based in Renton, Wash.
Operators dial in grading parameters based on the intended markets for each load.
“You can grade an 8-row going to the local market and you can accept a little softness because it’s going to be consumed in two to three days,” he said. “But Korea or Japan are premium markets and want firmer fruit. I can set the same color and the same size but different quality grades because they’re going to different markets.”
The mechanics of the few grading systems on the market are similar, Archibeque said. What set the GP Graders system apart in his mind was the software developed by Ellips B.V., Eindhoven, Netherlands.
“They all use the same cameras, but how does the software analyze the images and makes decisions? That’s where we win,” he said.
Rivermaid’s growers are expected to harvest the year’s first cherries April 21 near Patterson, and they should be run the following day.
Archibeque said it’s a bit disheartening to have the new 40-lane system and what appears to be a statewide cherry crop that’s predicted to yield at least 30% less fruit than average.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of fruit to run through the machine,” he said. “We’re hoping it’s only 30%. What we’re finding now is trees are starting to slough, so what fruit we thought was going to stick and mature is sloughing. It makes us all pretty nervous. So it’s going to be a challenge to market, no question about it.”