Packer Interview - Karen Lewis June 25
Karen Lewis, Washington State University regional tree fruit specialist ( The Packer )

How close are robotic apple harvesting machines to commercial deployment?

That was a theme of a June 25 conversation between The Packer’s Tom Karst  and Karen Lewis, Washington State University regional tree fruit specialist.

Lewis said that the relationship between tree architecture and orchard design to robotic harvesters is important to recognize.
Making orchard systems more accessible has been done in concert with the development of harvest technologies. 

There has been tension between the pace of orchard design and the development of harvest technology, she said.

“So there was a point where we had probably some frustrated producers who said, ‘Look, I’ve spent a ton of money applying new horticultural science and developing very intensive accessible systems, so where’s that technology?  And then we have technology providers that are saying (to growers), ‘You don’t have enough acreage is planted in a manner that’s accessible to these machines”

Now, however, recent heavy investment in seeking solutions to harvest technology has brought commercial use of robotic harvesters closer than ever.

“We’ve had (technology companies) choosing to find solutions in the food system and and producers that have had the capital available to build new horticultural on orchard systems. That’s been very exciting.”

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