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Transfer of Ideas from Research to Industry: The Case of the United States of America - page 10 / 15





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proposed in the US Congress will devote more funds towards developing technology for specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables.   Among the research and development goals will be improving mechanization and automation of fruits and vegetables.

The mechanical tomato harvester has been designated a National Historic Landmark of Agricultural Engineering.  The plaque reads:

In 1942, University of California, Davis (UCD) biologist Jack Hanna recognized the need for breeding tomato varieties that ripen uniformly and withstand the rigors of mechanical harvesting. In 1949, UCD agricultural engineer Coby Lorenzen and Hanna began developing a mechanical tomato harvester. Parallel efforts by others, notably those started in 1957 by agricultural engineer Bill Stout and horticulturist Stan Ries of Michigan State University, eventually resulted in several different harvesting mechanisms.

In the late 1950s, UCD agricultural engineer Steven J. Sluka developed a vine separator for Lorenzen’s machine. The modified harvester was successfully tested on the Lester Heringer farm, and Heringer convinced Blackwelder Manufacturing Co. of Rio Vista, CA to commercialize the UCD design. The resulting machine became the dominant tomato harvester in the world and revolutionized the industry. Methods for harvesting processing tomatoes in the USA changed from essentially all manual in 1963 to primarily mechanical by 1968.

There were great concerns about the displacement of hand labor by mechanical harvesting. However, the machines cut harvesting costs by half and led to large increases in both tomato acreage and tonnage within and eventually outside the USA.

The development of the tomato harvester is a demonstration of the successful transfer of ideas between the public sector and industry.   


Spatially-variable crop production, more commonly known as precision agriculture (PA), has been one of the major changes in contemporary plant agriculture.   Perhaps the most important part of PA is yield mapping.   Yield mapping of crops harvested with grain combines has been around for over twenty years (e.g., Schueller and Bae, 1987).    It soon became apparent that yield mapping should be applied to a wide range of crops (e.g., Schueller, 1992).   Cotton is the most important fiber crop and a big part of plant agriculture.   Accordingly, there have been efforts to develop yield mapping for cotton.

The key technology needed for yield mapping was an accurate, reliable, and affordable yield monitor which could measure the rate at which the cotton crop was being harvested.   The development of yield monitors for cotton yield mapping is an interesting, more-contemporary, case of transfer of ideas from the public sector to the private sector.

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