TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER FOR EQUIPMENT FOR PLANT PRODUCTION
The Club of Bologna is concerned with improving agriculture production worldwide through better mechanization. Much research on agricultural mechanization has been conducted around the world in the public sector. Hopefully, that history of significant generation of ideas and innovation will continue. But it is equally important that the ideas and innovation be transferred into practice. So it may be helpful to review some examples of technology transfer in the mechanization area.
MECHANICAL TOMATO HARVESTER
The development of the mechanical tomato harvester, as described in Hartsough (2004) and elsewhere, is an interesting example of technology transfer. Fragile crops, such as most fruits and vegetables, have been more resistant to mechanization than more robust crops such as grains. So mechanization is more difficult. In addition, these crops are not grown on as many farms and therefore represent a smaller potential market for manufacturers. Therefore, harvesters for fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, were developed and commercialized later than for agronomic crops. Practical harvesters still have not been developed for some fruit and vegetable crops.
The major impetus for developing a mechanical tomato harvester was the lack of harvesting labor. The first mechanization efforts came during World War II when there was a shortage of labor due to military and industrial demands. The US Congress established the Bracero program to allow Mexican nationals to work in the US and by 1962 almost 80% of the processing tomato harvesting workforce was Mexican nationals. The Bracero program was ended in 1964 due to charges that the program was adversely affecting domestic agricultural workers. Growers then had very strong concerns about the availability of workers to harvest the crop and strongly pushed for mechanical harvesting.
The mechanical harvesting of tomatoes was considered impossible because of the wide variation in maturity, the random location of fruit, and the soft and easily broken fruit (Stout and Ries, 1960). So there had to be changes in the tomato plant to facilitate mechanical harvesting. There were substantial efforts in this regard, leading to varieties which were better to harvest. Gordie C. “Jack” Hanna of the Department of Vegetable Crops at the University of California, Davis was a pivotal figure in that development.
As with most inventions, the development of the mechanical tomato harvester had many contributors and many twists and turns in the development process. Even though it has been widely discussed, it is difficult to exactly determine the history of development. Hartsough (2004) identifies eight different significant simultaneous designs being developed by 1962: Button/Johnson, FMC, Gill/Massey-Ferguson, Hume, Peto Ayala, Ries/Stout/Chisholm-Ryder, Rocky Mountain Steel, UC-Blackwelder, and Ziegenmeyer. These groups represented a mix of public sector and private sector firms.
One leaders of research in this area was the team of engineer Bill Stout and horticulturist