Considerations for Mechanical Harvesting in Olive Trees

In recent years, Olive producers have encountered recurrent obstacles caused by labor shortages.  One way to address this issue is to mechanise processes within your grove operation which may include but are not limited to olive oil processing, mechanised pruning & mechanised harvesting.

The logistics of implementing a new strategy do require careful consideration when moving from hand harvesting, and the harvest rate may be around 100 kilograms per hour using the latest technology pneumatic or electric rakes. The transition to mechanical harvesting represents a significant change that demands careful adjustments not only in terms of harvesting but also in pruning and managing the substantial increase of fruit over a shorter time period, potentially reaching approximately 500 kilograms per hour through using mechanical harvesting machinery.  As a general rule, the flow of fruit to olive oil processing needs to be matched with mechanical harvesting capability to uphold the highest quality.



Another consideration is the type of shaker head for mechanical harvesting which also comes in various forms from Tractor mounted, Tracked Skid Steer, Tele-handler, Tracked Excavator, or Dozer mounted are some examples through to a Buggy which is comprised of a shaker head, inverted umbrella, and drive machine.


Then there is Over-the-Row machinery which are specially designed for high and super-high-density grove layouts where intensive planting has occurred.



There are some minimum requirements needed when assessing the suitability of Mechanical Harvesting equipment with your existing machinery and will generally require a tractor with at least 80-100 HP.  Trees also need to be spaced 8 x 5m but usually not a smaller grove layout as it is too problematic to attempt with a shaker system.   For drive units, a typical hydraulic oil flow rate of 100L/min at 180 bar is required.



The topography of the land needs to be considered when working out the suitability of equipment because some units have certain weight restrictions and are also not suitable for certain working conditions.  It is a great idea to discuss details about the slope involved with harvesting your grove.



Tree shape is also important as usually a main trunk with laterals is required.  Internationally, we often see the multi-trunk system where there are 4 or even 5 trunks per tree which makes harvesting difficult for a shaker, especially with younger trees. What is usually required is a single main trunk that is clear to at least 1m is ideal even when there are 3 or 4 main branches from the trunk which helps to set up for a successful harvest when shaking as the traveling vibrations from the shaker can facilitate excellent movement transfer up the tree and then onto the hanging fruit.  The idea is to have a tree that the maximum intensity of the vibrations can travel up the tree in the most efficient way and pruning can help facilitate this efficiency.



Various sizes of Trunk Diameter should be considered when matching the correct shaking head.  These heads usually start at about 450mm in diameter and can be provided to harvest a trunk with a diameter of 1m.  A 450mm diameter would be able to take a trunk up to 400mm.  


If you are looking to start a contract harvesting business for your area it may be beneficial to check with other producers in your area to ascertain the scope of trunk diameter, pruning style, and topography.



Case capacity is referred to as the collection tray where the fruit funnels from the inverted umbrella.  The case capacity of mechanical shakers ranges from about 200kgs up to around 400kgs.

The COE harvester has a catching frame module that runs alongside a second unit to the harvester to collect fruit.  Leaf removal functions can also be carried out with the COE machinery which helps in the olive oil extraction process with minimal leaves in the fruit.

The COE harvester has a catching frame module that runs alongside a second unit to the harvester to collect fruit.  Leaf removal functions can also be carried out with the COE machinery which helps in the olive oil extraction process with minimal leaves in the fruit.



Reverse Umbrella is usually an add-on and is required on tractors with 100HP.  If you have a smaller tractor from 65-80 HP then you may not be able to operate a reverse umbrella with the shaker head.



The shaker head on a COE harvester enters the trunk from a side operation.  The catcher and the shaker drive forward up the row and the shaker head reaches the tree from the side.  The efficiency of the COE has been reported from several producers who own these units as being able to harvest a tree every 7 seconds.


The shaker head operation on a Sicma or a Moresil is mounted on the front of the tractor whereby the operator drives forward,  grapples the tree, closes the umbrella then performs the harvesting operation.  Timing for shaking efficiency can range but has been reported to be about 12 seconds with a Sicma B411 Plus unit.  Harvest efficiency depends on the harvesting unit and the skill of the operator.


Some harvesting units take considerably longer in their efficiency depending on manufacturing.  All types of harvesters can cause damage to the trunk and fruit.  There is a trade-off between the power of a unit vs fruit removal efficiency vs fruit removal force.  



Generally, the minimum weight required to support a shaker head and umbrella is about 4200kgs. To achieve the desired weight the use of counterweights can be taken into consideration or even filling tyres with water.



Varietal suitability for mechanical harvesting is something to consider because some varietals have a greater fruit removal force than others.  Larger early ripening varietals usually harvest the easiest, however later ripening varieties or smaller fruit varieties can be more difficult to harvest because they have greater fruit removal forces.  Some varieties with greater removal forces will require units with ample shaking power without the necessity for greater shaking duration to achieve fruit removal and sometimes fruit loosening agents may need to be considered.



Brand of harvester is also a consideration as there are many units available on offer around the world but they all have working capabilities which may or may not be suitable.  Mechanical harvesting is a considerable investment for any grove operation and matching the correct type of harvester is paramount to successful implementation.  Backup service and parts availability is also a major consideration.



Many of the shaker technologies can be used for other tree crops including Walnuts, Pecans, Almonds, Olives & hanging fruits.  Some of the manufacturers claim to have tested shaker technology with the mechanical fruit processing application(s) for cherries, plums, apples and citrus fruits.


Some brands of Shaker technology on offer in Australia are Moresil, Sicma, COE and the over the row units include OXBO, New Holland, Gregoire & Moresil.  There are other brands like De Masi which have been supported in the past.

If you are considering investing in a mechanical harvesting unit for your grove operation, there are many considerations to take into account, please feel free to contact our office to discuss your options.


More:  Pruning Recommendations for Mechanical Harvesting

More:  Mechanical Harvesting Machines

More: 4 Factors That Will Set You Up For Next Olive Harvest


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