UF/IFAS leads shift to mechanized tomato harvesting

May 02, 2024

By Farms.com

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is at the forefront of agricultural innovation with its development of machine-harvestable tomato varieties. These new breeds could dramatically alter the landscape of tomato farming in Florida by enabling mechanical harvesting, thereby reducing labor costs and increasing efficiency.

Jessica Chitwood-Brown, a key breeder at UF/IFAS, points out that the manual labor involved in current tomato harvesting practices is both physically demanding and increasingly hard to staff. The new varieties, pioneered by UF/IFAS researchers Jay Scott and Sam Hutton, are tailored to overcome these challenges with features suited for mechanization, such as jointless pedicels for easier detachment.

The economic implications of these innovations are significant. Michael Schadler from the Florida Tomato Committee acknowledges the potential benefits but also notes the uncertainties regarding yield comparisons and cost savings. The industry is keenly watching the upcoming large-scale trials and the subsequent introduction of harvesting machines, anticipated next year.

This shift towards mechanized harvesting represents a potential turning point for the tomato industry in Florida, offering a glimpse into a more automated and efficient future in agriculture. The success of these innovations could serve as a model for other crops and regions, heralding a new era in farming technology.