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Transfer of Ideas from Research to Industry: The Case of the United States of America - page 8 / 15

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Stan Ries at Michigan State University.   They set a very high standard to transferring knowledge.   They showed a film of their work at the University of California Tomato Day in 1959.   They also wrote an article for Agricultural Engineering in 1960 (Stout and Ries, 1960).   These were very influential in transferring their knowledge to others in the public and private sectors.

The UC-Blackwelder group was most successful at going from research to commercialization.   Under the prompting of Roy Bainer, chairman of Agricultural Engineering at the University of California-Davis, Coby Lorenzen, later joined by Steve Sluka, worked on mechanical harvesting of tomatoes.  After ten years of testing various components on a part-time the first prototype was built in 1959.  

A farmer, Lester Heringer, asked to see the prototype demonstrated on his farm.  The machine so impressed the farmer that he approached Ernest Blackwelder of Blackwelder Manufacturing Company (who had not observed the test) and managed to convince Blackwelder to purchase an exclusive license from the University of California to commercialize the design.  Heringer placed an advance order for the first commercial machine.

Blackwelder continued to work on the prototype through 1961 and build twenty-five experimental machines.   All had problems and had to be rebuilt after testing.  Significant engineering improvements had to be made for commercial success.

In addition, Cooperative Extension personnel had to train and educate the farmers.  Besides the equipment, new varieties, higher planting densities, and changes in irrigation and fertilization were necessary to get uniform maturity and good economic results.

The use of mechanical harvesters took over the California processed tomato crop in less than a decade.   Table 2 shows that machine harvesting became dominant in a very short time.

Year

Number of Machines

% Crop Machine Harvested

1962

25

1.0

1963

66

1.5

1964

(66)

3.8

1965

224

24.7

1966

736

65.8

1967

1065

81.8

1968

1461

95.1

1969

1510

99.5

1970

1521

99.9

Table 2:  Number of Tomato Harvesters and Percentage of Crop Harvested in California

(based on Hartsough, 2004, citing Madden, 1985)

Schmitz and Seckler (1970) present a detailed economic analysis of the tomato harvester.

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