School of Economic Sciences

Agribusiness Management

Field Research Projects Conducted in the 2002 Asparagus Harvest Season

by Trent Ball*

Field data was collected to determine the total waste (crooked, butt ends, etc.) that remains in the asparagus field. Advanced processing techniques could use the material for creating dehydrated material, nutraceuticals, or juices. In addition, measurements were taken to establish parameters and requirements for potential mechanical harvesters.

Trials were run during the season on a non-selective harvester that snaps the asparagus spears (see harvester on the right). The machine harvester was evaluated based on speed, cost, and useable harvested spears. Although not an option for the entire industry, initial results suggest practical application if a number two spear market is established. For the purpose of the study a number two spear was defined as larger than six inches, but has a slightly damaged basal region, and/or a flower that is seedy; also included in this category is a number 1 spear that is smaller than six inches. It is expected that in the future additional machines will be evaluated.

Another company based out of New Zealand, Geostel Vision, has developed an electronic grader/sorter. A firm in California purchased the first commercial electronic machine developed by Geostel Vision for use in the U.S.

A recent visit was conducted to assess the feasibility of the machines for use in the Washington fresh asparagus sheds. The California shed reported labor savings of over 30% using the electronic grader, and the savings might be possible if utilized by the Washington asparagus industry.

Both labor reduction and increased efficiency were attained using the machines compared to manual sorting and grading. The machines include a washing system in addition to the grading and sorting capabilities (see wash unit,above, and infeed belt photos below). For additional pictures of the electronic grader see the web photo album.

Wash unit bigger view Infeed belts Feeder belt Geostel Vision is continually making advancements on the electronic grading machines. A future adaptation is to include a color camera that will grade the tip based upon the flower (seediness). Also, a design will be added to the chutes to improve the individual spear collection. (Bottom right photo). These adjustments should enhance the quality of the machines for use in the Washington asparagus industry.

First cutter and camera boxLong view of cups, 1st cutter, camera, then chuteslarger chutes  

"While there may be doubts about the development of a harvester, new grader-sorters under development 'are capable of putting out a more uniform high quality product than we are getting today." ** Quote from Washington Farmer-Stockman, interview with Ray Folwell, Washington State University (WSU) Extension agricultural economist, May 2002, p.16.

"The future of production agriculture, agribusiness and rural people is being profoundly affected by how well they adopt and adapt to technological developments."

Quote from Farm Foundation 2002 Annual Report, p. 11.

Harvester in the field

Mechanical non-selective harvester called the Snapper, donated to WSU by Chuck and Flo Sayre.

Wash Unit 

Sprayer inside the Wash Unit

*Trent Ball is an Associate in Research, working with Dr. Ray Folwell, on the asparagus project. He traveled to California in June 2002 to observe and study new packing technologies. Trent also performed field trials in the Columbia Basin to evaluate the feasibility of using a mechanical harvester in Washington asparagus fields.

**An interview with Dr. Ray Folwell and Trent Ball and information on this topic can be found in the "Spear Scythe" article by T.J. Burnham, Western Farmer-Stockman, May 2002, p. 14-18.

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