Leaders across all sectors of agriculture continually develop, test, and implement innovations that will help make farming more environmentally and financially sustainable. Climate change, regulatory pressure, changes in consumer demands, and other factors put pressure on all farmers to evaluate and adopt technologies, but this is especially true for our nation’s fruit and vegetable farmers. Here are a few examples of innovations across this diverse industry.
Broccoli With Longer Stems
Fruit and vegetable companies that grow items that must be hand harvested are seeking innovations that reduce their need for labor. Leaders at Bayer Vegetable Seed developed a variety of broccoli that produces a longer stem thereby enabling the broccoli to be harvested with a machine versus being cut by hand. Sadly, many consumers are not interested in eating broccoli stems so further innovation is being done to produce products from the broccoli stems, including star-shaped broccoli pieces for kids called “Broc-Stars.”
Mechanically Harvested Romaine Lettuce
Romaine lettuce is another example of a crop that used to require hand harvesting. Engineers working for Taylor Farms, one of the largest lettuce growers and processors in the Salinas Valley of California, developed lettuce combines that slowly move through Romaine fields using water “knives” to cut the lettuce at the root base. The cells in the plant react differently to the water jets compared to actual knives, sealing off the cells and reducing risk of bacterial contamination in the field. This innovation saves on labor costs and promotes food safety.
Helicopters In Cherry Orchards
This innovation is an example of an old-school technology, helicopters, being used to reduce risk of fruit damage during harvest. If it rains during harvest, cherries will collect water in the stem cup, increasing risk of cherries splitting open. Cherry growers in Washington state such as Stemilt Growers and Chelan Fresh have helicopter pilots who can fly over the orchards to gently shakes the water off the cherries, protecting the fruit from potential damage.
Breeding For Better Flavor
Plant breeders across our industry in both the public and private sector work to develop new varieties that meet the taste preferences of today’s consumers. Breeders are looking for traits like higher brix in melons to increase sweetness, fewer sulfur compounds in onions to reduce tearing when the onions are cut, and strawberries with more volatile compounds that produce aroma that strongly correlate with flavor are just a few examples of how breeders use traditional breeding methods combined with computer-assisted tracking of genes associated with valuable traits.
Let’s all celebrate all the work being done in agriculture that brings to market more fruits and vegetables that consumers enjoy every day!