After years of investment, harvest automation is getting closer for the Florida strawberry industry.

“Through automation, I think the industry will thrive and remain competitive,” said Gary Wishnatzki, president and CEO of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms.

He also is co-founder of Harvest Croo Robotics, which began in 2013.

Robotic harvesting will open the door for different packaging concepts that could revolutionize the way things are done, he said.

For example, a robotic harvest platform could open the door for pre-washed fruit, he said.

Wishnatzki said Harvest Croo Robotics expected to field test a robotic harvest machine in December.

“The machine is pretty much ready to go and should be packing berries within the platform this month,” he said in mid-December.

 

Development

The technology is still in its infancy, he said, and is still a few years before the machine will be commercialized.

Looking forward to how harvest automation will change packaging, Wishnatzki said Harvest Croo is working with the packaging company Sonoco to imagine new packaging possibility for strawberries harvested by machine.

The packaging discussion will eventually involve all investing strawberry companies, consumers and retailers.

Wishnatzki said about two-thirds of the strawberry industry is investing in Harvest Croo Robotics, including Driscoll’s, Grimes Produce, Naturipe, Astin Strawberry Exchange and others.

“The whole thing with automation is that human labor won’t be around, and (robotics) will put us on a level playing field,” he said.

 
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