Trellis Systems May Aid Robotic Harvesting

Ernie NeffResearch

Spectators observe the trellis systems.

Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) government is growing citrus on trellis systems in an effort to reduce vigor, increase flowering and fruit production, and potentially open the way to robotic harvesting. The trial being conducted by NSW’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI) at the Dareton research center is part of the National Tree Crop Intensification in Horticulture project.  

The experiment is comparing three different trellising systems to maximize the capture of sunshine. “We’ll be quantifying the production, canopy development and cost of installation,” said Steven Falivene, DPI citrus development officer.

Falivene said citrus was being trialed on a trellis structure for three reasons:

• Yield
• Harvest efficiency and safety
• Robotic harvesting

As a comparison, Falivene said an untrellised section of the NSW DPI site had navel trees planted on a 5-meter spacing. It is constricted and overcrowded with a shaded canopy and narrow tractor access. The trees were regularly hedged, and yields are 15 to 30 tons per hectare.

“Trellising is one strategy to improve light penetration into the canopy that will produce more fruitful wood and hopefully raise yields,” Falivene said.

Trellising will also improve harvest efficiency and safety, as it will enable pickers to use a stable step-up platform ladder.

Labor shortages, work health and safety issues and advances in technology mean robotic harvesting is more viable. Trialing the trellis systems will provide insights into the best systems for robotic harvesting in the future.

“Robotic harvesting is already being trialed in citrus but the robots are unable to pick the citrus effectively within the canopy,” Falivene said. “The trellis structure will enable the robot to pick all the fruit efficiently and effectively.”

Researchers hope that benefits of the trellis structure will include improved light penetration for even coloring of fruit, reduced albedo breakdown, reduced fruit blemish and improved spray penetration.

“We will be monitoring all labor and physical inputs and yield outputs of the trial, developing financial models to help determine if trellis production is a viable option for Australian citrus,” Falivene said.

Learn more about the different trellis systems being trialed.

Source: Citrus Australia

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