Mango harvester that locates ripe fruit

March 24, 2022 | 5 Min read
The world's first automatic mango harvester is nearing commercialisation.

The world's first automatic mango harvester is promising to revolutionise the industry, as it approaches commercialisation in Central Queensland.

After several years of trials and the installation of new mechanics, camera systems and grippers, lead researcher Professor Kerry Walsh says the harvester's development is on the home stretch. 

"If you've got a fruit in reach … now with these new grippers, basically, you will always get it," he said.

"But things keep improving … so we're continuing to make it faster and more robust."

Professor Walsh says minimising manual labour is key to industry integration.

"Currently in Australia, you break the fruit in the tree, then you throw it onto a harvest aid," he said.

"Where there were eight people working around the harvest aid, we are adding mechanical arms to the process instead."

Reducing labour woes

Yeppoon mango grower Ian Groves said the auto-harvester had the potential to solve the industry's ongoing issue with labour.

"The big thing is that labour is obviously a massive bugbear of the horticultural industry … the last few years it's really amplified that fact with COVID and no backpackers around," he said.

"Farmers are yelling out for methods of saving and getting numbers of people on the farm, so when this gets going it'll be one big bonus."

While the auto-harvester will still require human oversight, Mr Groves said that any extra pair of hands - robotic or not - would be welcome.

"If it can go through and get even 70 per cent of the fruit … that still takes 70 per cent of the labour off the job … then people can follow it and clean up," he said.

The machine operates in an integrated computer system that enables farmers to know how much fruit is on their trees, what condition it is in and when it will be ripe for picking.

Mr Groves said the information would allow farmers to determine the best time to employ people for picking and packing.

"You could have a GPS machine locator on your harvester and it will just automatically go to the most mature trees," he said.

"People won't be picking in frustration."

Niceforo Farms director Daniel Niceforo said the auto-harvester would not solve the labour issue completely, but it would reduce the number of workers required.

"We're always going to need people on farm, there's no doubt about that … but the harvester will definitely help with the labour shortage," he said.

Mr Niceforo said the last remaining barrier would be cost.

"It's still got to be financially viable," he said. "One thing I do like about Kerry is the way he's designed, built and prototyped this machine to make it affordable for the farmer.

"Making something to do a job, I wouldn't say it's the easy part, but making it affordable and economical is by far the hardest part of it."

Categories Mangoes Harvesting