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Tree that bear fruit in the north-central United States.
Seedlings can remain in the mother tree and require a strong tree in order to survive, however, in the early stages of seedling development, the roots and shoots have insufficient strength to support the large amounts of biomass that are necessary to obtain marketable quantities of fruit. After a number of years of such growth, the fruit tree develops a strong trunk that is able to support the large, often many tons, of fruit that is a normal consequence of good grafting procedures.
Once the trees have reached this critical stage of growth, the fruit begins to mature. This may require five or more years from the time of planting. The time at which the fruit is ready for harvest is dependent upon a number of factors, including, the species of fruit tree, the age of the tree and the location of the tree in the U.S.
The climatic factors of latitude and elevation also have an impact upon the maturity and ripening of the fruit. Fruit tree fruits from locations at higher latitudes will ripen at an earlier time than those harvested from lower latitudes. In addition, fruit will ripen at an earlier time in regions of higher elevations, than in areas of lower elevation.
Therefore, fruit in the spring must be able to be produced from trees that are not only mature but also harvested before the summer and fall fruits have had time to ripen, and that, therefore, may need to be harvested the following spring. This is important, since harvesting season is limited by weather.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult for an orchardist to plan its pruning schedule to coincide with a desired harvest time.For example, trees in the south with summer harvest dates are not harvested in the north, where the fall harvest takes place. If the farmer is growing apples for late harvest, a later pruning cut of a southern apple tree could cause the fruit to ripen in late fall and be harvested in early winter. This is undesirable, since the fruit is not mature.
Furthermore, many orchardists are harvesting fruit in the fall rather than the spring because this is when the market is most active and fruit is in demand. For example, most fruit will be sold through the late fall and into the winter months. However, there is an increasing demand for early harvest fruit for fresh eating and fresh juicing during the summer months when temperatures are higher and better tolerated by the fruit.
Most commercially grown fruit has a harvest window, which is the period between the date when the fruit is fully ripe and the date when the fruit has dropped to a desired size for marketability. This harvest window is important for two reasons. First, fruit that does not have a sufficiently short harvest window cannot be sold to consumers. A second reason is that fruit that is harvested too late in its ripening cycle has a reduced nutritional value because of a lowered content of vitamin C, pectin, and a higher content of tartaric acid.
For this reason, fruit growers do not want fruit to ripen too early, lest they lose a large portion of their yield. It has been common practice to prune fruit trees or graft onto trees that have a shorter harvest window. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 4,744,624, issued May 17, 1988 to Jones, discloses a system for controlling ripening and harvest dates by grafting onto dwarf trees. Unfortunately, these practices tend to reduce the productivity of the fruit trees by pruning the trees earlier than required. Also, because of the expense of grafting, many orchardists have avoided using these methods.
It is the intent of the present invention to provide a system that enables farmers to produce, at a low cost and without sacrificing fruit quality and fruit yield, fruit which will ripen in early summer, and, thus, fall under the harvest window.
To accomplish this goal, the system of the present invention first selects fruit that is suitable for the system. To do so, it measures the fruit's fresh weight and dry matter content. From this information, it determines the time required for each fruit to complete its ripening process. Since fruit with a slower ripening process is less susceptible to a short harvest window, it removes this fruit from further consideration.
The system next determines which fruit should be placed on which trees. Because this process is done before the trees are grafted, the placement of the fruit on the trees is not as important as the timing of the grafting. However, the system places the fruit on the trees that ripen it earliest. If a first fruit is determined to be ripe, and other fruit are determined to be unripe, a suitable tree from which to graft the fruit is selected.
The selected fruit is grafted onto the tree and the tree is placed in the orchard where it can reach an end user. After the fruit has been harvested, it is transported from the orchard to the packing house where it is graded based on its appearance. The system then selects from this graded fruit those that are suitable for consumption.
The selected fruit is packed for shipment and will reach the market within approximately six months from when it was grafted and selected for consumption.
The present invention may be embodied in a method of selecting and preparing fruit for harvesting.The method includes the steps of: (a) receiving a data signal from at least one of a computer and a sensor, (b) generating a signal based upon the data signal, (c) storing the signal for future reference, (d) receiving a plurality of signals and (e) determining a fruit which is suitable for consumption based upon the plurality of signals.
A further understanding of the nature and advantages of the inventions herein may be realized by reference to the remaining portions of the specification and the attached drawings.