New prototype lettuce harvester could cut manual labor by 50%

An Agri-EPI project, established to solve the problem of crippling labor shortages in the fresh produce sector, could bring mechanical lettuce harvesting another step closer. Whole-head lettuce is the UK’s most valuable field vegetable crop, but harvesting is still a painstakingly manual task, requiring pickers to bend over and cut the stem at precisely the right point to satisfy supermarket quality standards.

To combat the labor shortage problems, Agri-EPI assembled a project team, secured Innovate UK funding, and started developing a purpose-built harvester. Work began in April 2021 with a series of partners, including Grimme, Harper Adams University, G’s, PDM Produce, Imaging Development Systems, and the Centre for Machine Vision at the University of the West of England.

After months of design and fabrication work, the first prototype harvester was ready for field testing, with early predictions suggesting a possible 50% reduction in labor. The single-row lifter has a pair of pointed, rotating “torpedo” augers at the front that push under the lettuce on either side of the root and gently lift it out of the ground. The plant is then supported, in an upright position, by a pair of pocket belts, before another pair of pinch belts – adapted from a leek harvester – grab the root and transport it to a processing unit at the rear.

Read the complete article at Farmers Weekly.

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