While the whole of agriculture trends toward automation technologies, the production operations of tree fruit crops still requires a fair amount of manual labor, writes Thomas Skernivitz at Growing Produce.
The pruning of apple trees, for instance, comprises about 20% of total preharvest production costs. Between 30 and 35 working hours of skilled labor are required per acre for manual pruning of apple trees. The dilemma increases ever more as the labor force diminishes and labor costs rise.
“There is a need to find a potential solution to this problem,” Azlan Zahid, a graduate student at Penn State University, says.
Zahid and his colleagues at Penn State have designed the first robotic mechanism — an end-effector cutter — for a fully automated, computerized pruning system for modern apple orchards. To date, the concept of integrating such a Cartesian- and rotational joint-based robotic system has showed promising results while overcoming difficult pruning conditions, he says.