The results presented in this publication serve as a general guide for evaluating the economic feasibility of two different harvest methods—hand and mechanical—for cider apples grown in western Washington as of 2015. Specific budget assumptions were adopted for this study, but these assumptions may not fit every situation since production costs and returns vary across orchard operations depending on the following factors:
- Capital, labor, and natural resources
- Crop yield
- Cultural practices
- Input prices
- Orchard size
- Cider apple prices
- Management skills
- Type and size of machinery and irrigation system
To avoid unwarranted conclusions for any particular orchard, readers must closely examine the assumptions made in this publication, and then adjust the costs, returns, or both as appropriate for their operation.
Harvesting Cider Apples
In the U.S., cider fruit is typically harvested by hand, just as dessert apples are harvested. A study in western Washington estimated that hand harvest accounted for 46% of the total annual variable costs when an orchard is in full production (Galinato et al. 2014).
Many cider apple cultivars are small-fruited; therefore, it can take up to four times longer to handpick one bin of cider apples than one bin of dessert apple cultivars (Miles and King 2014). Harvest labor is a primary cost consideration for cider apple growers, and it could potentially be reduced by refining mechanical harvesting of apples.
From 2014–2015 at the experimental orchard in WSU Northwestern Washington Research & Extension Center, Mount Vernon (NWREC), two rows of replicated specialty cider cultivar Brown Snout were hand harvested and mechanically harvested in a proof-of-concept experiment to evaluate the cost effectiveness of introducing mechanization to the harvest of cider apples. An over-the-row small fruit harvester (Littau OR0012) was used. While the size, shape, and yield of the trees in this experiment do not represent a commercial production system, data gathered provide a
- The yield for hand harvest and total yield for mechanical harvest were 11,760 lb/ac and 11,392 lb/ac respectively. Thus, the picking efficiency of total yield of mechanical harvest relative to hand harvest was calculated as 97%.
- For mechanical harvest, total yield included fruit picked by the machine and fruit cleaned out from the harvester (8,699 lb/ac), fruit that fell to the ground during harvest (831 lb/ac), and fruit that remained on the tree and was handpicked (1,862 lb/ac).
- Total labor hours for mechanical harvest (including post-harvest cleanup) was about 23% lower than that of hand harvest.
This publication enables growers to estimate the costs and benefits of mechanical harvest in comparison with hand harvest. Given that many factors affect cider apple production costs and returns, individual producers are encouraged to use the Excel Workbook provided to estimate their own costs and returns.
Sources of Information
In the enterprise budget for cider apples in western Washington, Galinato et al. (2014) estimated production costs and returns, including the labor cost of hand harvest. This enterprise budget served as the benchmark for comparing the costs associated with mechanical harvest in this publication. The return for cider apples was obtained from a survey of cider producers and cider apple growers in Washington State (Galinato et al. 2016). The price depends on the cider apple cultivar and, in general, the price range of cider apples in western Washington as of 2015 was between $0.25–$0.50/lb.