Blueberries: Machine Picking

Still blueberry picking time around here!

One of our fields we pick with a machine.  The rest we hand pick. This is a side row blueberry picker.  There are also more commonly used over the row pickers.  We use this side row kind because it fits under our low bird netting. 

We have 5 people on the machine.  One driving, and 4 in the back sorting and stacking empty and full crates.  This year we would start at 2am picking.  In the previous years, we have started later in the  AM but found that picking earlier helps the berries come off more easily.

Below is a picture of where the bushes go through the machine.  The beater bars shake the bush from both sides and knock the berries off.

When the berries fall, they are caught by these plastic arm sheets and roll to the white cups you see lining both sides.  The plastic arm sheets actually swing open as they hit the base of the blueberry bush.  So while they do catch many of the berries, we also lose much on the ground.  (Picture below)  One way to help reduce fruit drop loss is to prune the base of your bushes so they are very narrow.  

Here is how many berries that are lost on the ground.  Painful!

Another negative is the blueberry picker machine will also pick some greens.  Whenever you pick greens, you are losing some of your next picking.  It will negatively affect your yield.

(That to say, we are pretty novice at picking with a machine.  Plus our machine is very old.  I believe the newer over the row blueberry pickers and if we had more experience, would probably pick less green.) 

This is the other side of the blueberry picker.  Between where the 2 people are standing, there is a sorting belt and it is where the berries drop into the crates.

These crates don't looks so bad.  They have less green berries.


Why would a blueberry grow choose to machine pick over hand pick?

Some berries don't ship well to far away places, so they can't easily be sold fresh.  So instead that berry would go to the process market, which means, either frozen, dried or as juice.

It also can largely depend on the price you as a grower are being paid per pound.  If it is a low price, then you cannot afford to pick it by hand.  This year it cost us $0.70 per pound to pay a picker to hand pick.  When you are only being paid $1.00 per pound for fresh market, you are losing money after you add up all your expenses to grow the berries. 

It costs $0.10-.15 to harvest per pound to machine pick so that is much less expensive.  The downside is you get paid less for machine picked berries.  This year it is likely $0.70.  Factor in the berries that get dropped on the ground (which happens also with hand pick but not as bad), and how much dockage you get.  Dockage is the percentage of berries that have to be sorted out because they are green, not yet ripe enough, soft or shriveled.  We have dockage for hand pick too but usually it isn't as high of percentage.

So it can depend on the variety you grow, what the market will pay you or if you just can't get any pickers to show up!  

Anymore questions you all have?  Let me know!