Florida and California strawberry growers are harvesting at night to help increase productivity and quality.
Donald, Ore.-based GK Machine Inc. has added a lighting option to its conveyor belt strawberry harvest system.
The LED lighting, provided by Musco Lighting in Oskaloosa, Iowa, is stadium quality and cuts rejects by as much as 50%, said Scott Grossen, a GK engineer.
With the intense lighting, growers can begin picking around 3 a.m. and harvest fewer off-grades which normally occur during mid-morning’s warmer temperatures, he said.
Night-time picking of the high-moisture fruit allows growers to ship berries at the peak of freshness, he said.
“With availability of labor a big concern, if the crew is happier and moves faster, people will want to work for you, versus the conventional daytime harvesting,” Grossen said. “Before the lighting, growers weren’t able to pick and grade in the early morning hours because the berries would be rejected after picking.”
GK began testing the machinery last year and about a half dozen growers are using the system in Salinas, Calif., Oxnard, Calif., Santa Maria, Calif., and Lake Placid, Fla., he said.
That includes suppliers to Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., and Oxnard-based Reiter Affiliated Cos.
Other growers are considering incorporating the machinery, which is designed primarily for strawberry harvesting, Grossen said.
“When the weather is cool, there’s no need to use it, but we can have quality issues with some of our varieties, which tend to get softer as the day progresses because of the heat,” said Justin Pettit, production manager of Reiter subsidiary Sandy Ridge Berry Farms, Lake Placid. “It brings better fruit quality so it works very well.”
The lights are powered via an inverter that runs through the conveyor belt driver’s alternator, he said.