Modern broad acre farming operations have benefitted from technological innovations that have revolutionized production practices (e.g., harvesting combines). In contrast, tree fruit production processes remain highly dependent upon manual labor, particularly for critical perennial tasks like pruning and harvesting. The declining availability, and increasing cost, of skilled orchard labor for sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) producers in Washington State, USA, have farmers concerned about the sustainability of their operations. At Washington State University, interdisciplinary teams have been investigating mechanical means for accomplishing key labor-intensive tasks, including harvest and pruning. This work has led to development of a novel canopy architecture that is compatible with both mechanical pruning and harvest systems. Herein I describe briefly our work on developing planar fruiting wall architectures for sweet cherry (e.g., the UFO system), and our research into mechanizing both pruning and harvest. Our work has shown tremendous potential to radically improve harvest and pruning efficiency without reductions in fruit quality or quantity, and suggests that there are sustainable solutions to address industry’s concerns.
Keywords: future orchard systems, automation, harvest, stem-free fruit