17 Apr 2023

Hort Innovation: new strawberry variety for machine harvesting


A new Australian initiative by Hort Innovation will enable the selection of strawberries suitable for automated harvesting.

Specially selected strawberries for automated harvesting will soon become a reality in Australia after the launch of an initiative to develop varieties that can be easily harvested by robots.

The four-year, A$11.5 million initiative was promoted by Hort Innovation and led by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAFQ).

Hort Innovation CEO Brett Fifield said recent data show that the horticulture workforce has declined by 20 percent in the past three years, which has led 40 percent of Australian growers to adopt advanced machinery.

"The development of a sweet, red, flavor-rich strawberry that is ideal for automation will prove to be a game changer for growers who wish to apply new technologies in-house," he said. "Although strawberry picking with automation is not yet a common practice in Australia, it will be before we know it."

Brett Fifield, managing director of Hort Innovation.
Brett Fifield, managing director of Hort Innovation.

Fifield said Hort Innovation is working with technology companies and researchers on various automation projects related to horticulture, and discussions are ongoing with the berry industry to identify opportunities for technology adoption.

Jodi Neal, DAFQ's principal plant breeder, said the program will reduce the time needed to harvest and package strawberries, resulting in a more profitable outcome for growers.

Jodi Neal, DAFQ plant breeder.
Jodi Neal, DAFQ plant breeder.

"It takes the same amount of time to harvest a small strawberry and a large strawberry," Neal said. "This breeding program focuses on obtaining a consistent fruit size, preferred by consumers, on unbranched flower stems, which means the fruit can be harvested faster, either by conventional methods or through automation."

Agriculture and Fisheries Industry Development Minister Mark Furner said Queensland is a leader in agricultural innovation.

"Queensland remains at the forefront of ag-tech, which will be critical to the future of agriculture and the thousands of jobs it supports in our state," said Furner. "I applaud the great work done by Hort Innovation and my department and look forward to seeing the fruits of this investment benefit the industry for years to come."

Mark Furner, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Industry Development.
Mark Furner, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Industry Development.

Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie said the country's strawberry growers are ready to reap the benefits of the program's efforts to reduce harvesting costs.

"Selecting varieties tailored to strawberry growers across the country is a priority for our industry," he said. "We look forward to this program enabling us to profitably provide consistent, high-quality fruit to Australians and the world."

Fruitnet is part of the NCX Media network.

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