Thursday, August 9, 2007

Almond harvest and "Shaker Blight"

Peach harvest involves farm workers going around in the orchard from tree to tree and picking fruit by hand. Nothing new..

But, almonds are harvested in an entirely new (to me!) way. By shaking the trees. Yes. 
  1. A shaker head attaches to the tree trunk to shake the nuts from the tree. 
  2. The nuts fall to the ground, are left to dry. 
  3. Later, they are blown from around the tree and swept into windrows. 
  4. A pickup machine gathers the nuts from the windrow and loads them into a truck.
Personally, it pains to see the trees being shaked. It cannot be a pleasant experience for them, right? 

So, I did some research and talked to farming experts like  Prof Roger Duncan on what kind of "side effects" shaking has. It turns out, "Shaker Blight" has been a major problem for almonds, although this has been remedied by recent improvements in the equipment design. 

The major problem shakers cause is "barking" or slipped bark. That results from improper clamp pressure or movement of the rig after clamping. Modern shakers automatically lock the brakes when clamping pressure is achieved and this has reduced the incidence of slipped bark. A shaker is capable of shaking off a lot of twigs, but the duration and strength of the shake are variables that can be controlled to minimize this. Less energy is applied to young trees. 

Infrequently a limb will break off, but these are usually limbs that were cracked or otherwise damaged and destined to break off anyway. 

The biggest variable affecting the amount of damage is the operator. 

Experience and desire to do a good job are important. Most of our shaker business goes to Mr. Randy Bennett. He owns two machines that he and his son and one employee operate. We like him.

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