Gary Wishnatzki Gives the Latest on Harvest CROO's Automated Strawberry Picker
PLANT CITY, FL - “Our industry is on the cusp of a major revolution in agriculture and robotics,” Gary Wishnatzki, Co-Founder of Harvest CROO and Owner of Wish Farms, tells me, as we discuss the latest developments with his automated strawberry picker. “We are moving into the next phase of growth with more opportunities on the horizon to enhance the program and offer varying prototypes for strawberry growers.”
As labor and more cost effective in-field and harvesting technologies remain an important part of the conversation, Gary and Bob Pitzer, Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder, are working to adapt more versatility to their innovation. Harvest CROO machines work with traditional strawberry beds and mimic the way human pickers harvest strawberries.
The harvester is not only going to be picking the berries but also pack the fruit right on the machine, Gary notes.
“There is so much more potential for what we are going to be able to do, in addition to solely picking the strawberries and minimizing time spent in the field. One of the elements we are anticipating is better forecasting of the crop,” Gary says. As the robotic strawberry harvester moves through the plants every few days, it will record images from flowering plants to green berries in order to give the grower a better idea of the current state and timeline of the crop.
In regards to precision agriculture, the machine will also be involved in scouting as it travels through the field, taking images of plants which will then be aligned with a database of hundreds of images that can provide early warnings of things like pest presence which will help growers manage and even reduce pesticide usage.
“Our goal is to identify as many different variables in the early stages of the crop as we can. We hope that these technologies will help improve the health of the crop and minimize harm while saving time and money in the long run,” Gary tells me.
“There has been a tremendous reception for our strawberry harvester among some of the largest strawberry growers in the U.S.,” Gary says. Harvest CROO has opened a funding round for those in the industry that want to invest in the program and have also established an early adopter program which gives investors priority during the initial phases of the launch as well as a 9 percent discount for the first three years.
Right now Gary and Bob’s plan, near term, is to develop an updated version of their picking apparatus which they will roll out on small scale in the coming year with test runs this summer in California. Next winter they will test the updated prototype in Florida.
Gary recently made a trip to California and traveled all of the major strawberry districts in the state to share the program with growers.
“There is a real need for advancements in robotics and everyone we’ve spoken with during this first round of the prototype update is receptive. The demand is so great for a solution to alleviate the labor shortages we are having, and it isn’t just an East Coast or West Coast problem – it’s worldwide,” Gary continues. “Once we get this project streamlined, it will open the doors for other opportunities. Labor related issues are going to be addressed through robotics and why shouldn’t it be us?”
The company currently has 2 patents filed and looks to patent more of their proprietary technology as the program moves forward and new ideas take form.
The essence of the invention is that it has the potential to be applied to other crops. At present, the harvester is only a solution for strawberries, but Harvest CROO’s team of engineers that Gary and Bob have been assembling will be looking to branch out into other categories in the future.
The stars are aligning for advancements in robotics as the technology becomes more available and the need for innovation in agriculture presses on. Stay tuned as we keep you up to date on all things technology.