Harvesting is the process of removing a mature crop from where it was growing to a secure place for storage, processing, packaging, or consumption. Some tree fruit or root crops can be left in the field or orchard to be harvested when needed. However, some crops reach a maximum maturity period and can rot or deteriorate when not harvested in time.
Factors that Determine the Right Time to Harvest
Although many factors determine the best time for crop harvesting, the main factors include:
- The maturity of the crop.
- Availability of harvesting equipment.
- Availability of packing and storage facilities.
Marketing and economic factors are essential considerations in deciding the perfect time to harvest commodities. Before harvesting, the plantation owner must ensure demand for the crop, and the price is favorable to making the crop profitable. Additionally, harvesting involves a wide range of dynamics, including marketing, pricing, storage, and transportation.
Methods of Harvesting
Hand harvesting involves harvesting the produce by hand, without the use of any tool. Its typically done by using a picking cart or a container. This method is mostly applicable when harvesting strawberry and carrots.
Harvesting With Hand Tools
This harvesting method is commonly used when harvesting tree fruit. Special tools such as clippers are used to remove the fruit from the tree. They are then placed in some harvesting containers or bins. Once the harvesting bags are full, the product is transferred to a larger harvesting bin in the fields and then transported into a storage or processing facility. This harvesting method is commonly used to harvest peaches, fresh figs, and cuties.
Harvesting With Machinery
There are different methods of harvesting under this category, such as:
Harvesting Rig: This is a combination of hand-harvesting with the use of harvesting machinery. Typically, handpicked items are passed to the workers using harvesting rigs, where they are washed, trimmed, and packed. Harvesting rigs assist with the packaging and cleaning process. Some common examples of the harvesting method include cantaloupe, cauliflower, and romaine hearts.
Harvesting Mower: This method of harvesting reduces manual human labor and relies heavily on the mower. It works with an adjacent trailer that captures the harvest. This method is usually involved in harvesting spring mix and basil.
Combine Harvester: This machine passes through the field and mows down the grain crops, and segregates the desired portion into the machine, splitting the unwanted part through the back. A common example is a corn combine harvester that harvests corn to be used in processed products, such as corn chips.
The Process of Harvesting
Harvesting is mainly separated into three steps: the plant to be harvested must be identified, separated from the rest of the plant, and then collected into a container for storage or transportation.
The harvesting of grains and cereals has been mechanized due to the resistance of dried cereals to physical damage. Once harvested through a combined harvester, the grain seeds are transported to silos for additional cleaning, fumigation, grading, and temporary storage.
Conversely, most horticultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, and apples, are hand-harvested for the fresh market. Mechanical harvesting may be done, but the damage incurred to the products is only fit for processing.
Once the crops are harvested, they are transported to a storage and processing facility. Advanced processing and packaging are done to improve the crop into ready products sold at grocery stores or supermarkets.
Harvesting is an essential part of food production since it marks the point when crops have survived natural disasters.