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Harvesting practices

Harvesting practices should cause as little mechanical damage to produce as possible. Gentle digging, picking and handling will help reduce crop losses.

Pick carefully to avoid damage :


For some crops, a natural break point forms at the junction of the stem and the stalk when produce is mature. Harvesters should grasp the product firmly but gently and pull upward as illustrated below. Wearing cotton gloves, trimming fingernails, and removing jewelry such as rings and bracelets can help reduce mechanical damage during harvest.


Source: FAO. 1989. Prevention of Post-Harvest Food Losses: Fruits. Vegetables and Root Crops. A Training Manual. Rome : UNFAO. 157 pp.

If a small amount of leafy vegetables are being harvested for home use or for sale at a nearby roadside or farmers' market, a small tub of cold water can be useful for cooling the produce. The tub can be brought directly to the field and used by the picker as a field container. Clean water should be used with each lot of produce. Chilling leafy vegetables by using cold water at harvest will help maintain quality and prevent wilting.


Source: Minnich, J. 1983. Gardening for Maximum Nutrition. Emmaus , Pa : Rodale Press.




Harvesting containers

Picking baskets, bags and buckets come in many sizes and shapes. Buckets are better at baskets in protecting produce, since they do not collapse and squeeze produce.

These harvesting containers can be made by sewing bags with openings on both ends, fitting fabric over the open bottom of ready-made baskets, fitting bags with adjustable harnesses, or by simply adding some carrying straps to a small basket.

Source: Friend Manufacturing Corporation, Prospect Street , P.O. Box 385 , Gasport , New York 14067

Plastic crates are relatively expensive but are durable, reusable and easy to clean. When empty, they can be nested to save space in storage or transport. When filled they can be stacked if every other crate is turned in the direction opposite to the one below.

Stackable, reusable plastic crates:


Source: FAO. 1989. Prevention of Post-Harvest Food Losses: Fruits, Vegetables and Root Crops. A Training Manual. Rome : UNFAO. 157 pp.


If plastic crates are well vented along the sides and/or bottom, they can also be used to wash and/or cool produce after harvest. See Chapter 3 and 4 for more details.





Harvesting tools

Some fruits need to be clipped or cut from the parent plant. Clippers or knives should be kept well sharpened. Penduncles, woody stems or spurs should be trimmed as close as possible to prevent fruit from damaging neighboring fruits during transport.

Pruning shears are often used for harvesting fruits, some vegetables, and cut flowers. A variety of styles are available as hand held or pole models, including shears that cut and hold onto the stem of the cut product. This feature allows the picker to harvest without a catching bag and without dropping fruits.


Straight bladed hand shears for fruits and flowers:




Thin curved blade for grapes and fruits:



Cut and hold hand shears:



Clipper for citrus fruits:



Pole mounted cut and hold picking shears:



Using a cutting tool attached to a long pole can aid picking of crops such as mangoes and avocados when the fruit is difficult to reach. Cutting edges should be kept sharpened and the catching bag should be relatively small The angle of the cutting edge and the shape of the catching bag can affect the quality of the fruit harvested, so it is important to check performance carefully before using any new tools.

Using a picking pole:

Picking poles and catching sacks can be made by hand or purchased from horticultural supply companies. The collection bags illustrated below were hand woven from strong cord or sewn from canvas. The hoop used as the basket rim and cutting edges can be fashioned from sheet metal, steel tubing or recycled scrap metal.

Hand woven collection bag


Canvas collection sack


Fruit trees are sometimes quite tall and letting fruit fall to the ground when it is cut from the tree will cause severe bruising. If two pickers work together, one can clip or cut the fruit from the tree, and the other can use a sack to break its fall. The catcher supports the bag with his hands and one foot, catches the falling fruit, then lowers the
far end of the bag to allow the fruit to roll safely to the ground.

Source: FAO. 1989 . Prevention of Post-Harvest Food Losses: Fruits. Vegetables and Root Crops. A Training Manual. Rome : UNFAO. 157 pp.


Unlike most nut crops, pistachio nuts should not be knocked to the ground during harvest because of their open shells and relatively high moisture content. The harvesting practice illustrated below can be used with pistachios and olives with good results. Plastic sheeting or canvas tarpaulins are spread below the tree being harvested, and trees are mechanically shaken or hand knocked (the branches hit with mauls) until the nuts drop. In the illustration below, two harvesters are gathering a sheet covered with produce.





Field packing

When crops are field packed the picker harvests and then immediately packs the produce after minimal handling Strawberries are generally field packed, since even a small amount of handling will damage these soft fruits. When lettuce is field packed, several wrapper leaves are left on the head to help cushion the produce during transport.

A small cart can help reduce the amount of bending and lifting the picker has to do during harvest. The carts shown below have a single wheel in front, and can be pushed along the row ahead of the picker.

Field packing strawberries:


Field packing lettuce:

A simple aid for field packers is a movable cart with a rack for boxes and a wide roof to provide shade. This small cart is designed to be pushed by hand along the outer edge of the field or orchard where harvest is taking place. It has been used to field pack table grapes, small fruits and specialty vegetables.



This larger cart for field packing is designed to be pulled by a small tractor into the field when the crop is harvested. This type of cart can be used for field packing many types of crops. The roof folds down for easy transport, and opens up to provide a wide area of shade for the packers and the commodity. The cart design can be modified as needed to suit various products and different operations.


A self-propelled field pack system allows field workers to cut, trim, tie/wrap and pack in the field, thus eliminating the expense of operating a packing shed. In the illustration below, a fiat bed truck is moving along-side the field pack system, and packed produce is being loaded for transport.


Self propelled field pack system


Source: Highlander Ramsay Welding Machine Promotional Brochure. 1993.




Transport to the packinghouse

When crops are harvested at some distance from the packinghouse, the produce must be transported before packing. The gravity driven conveyor system for bananas illustrated below provides an example of how handling can be minimized during preparation for market. Harvested bananas are carried to the platforms set up along the conveyor route, then lifted and hung from hooks attached to the wire. Transport speed is controlled by workers who lead the produce to the packinghouse at the bottom of the hill.

Source: NIAE. 1977. Banana Conveyor. Tropical Agricultural Engineering Information O.D. Bulletin No. 7. National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Silsoe, Bedfordshire , England . 15 pp.



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