Made in Michigan: Vacuum-powered apple picker

8:50 PM, Sep 19, 2013   |    comments
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CONKLIN, Mich. (WZZM) -- A new machine could change the way the apples you buy at the grocery store are harvested. It's only being tested right now, but in a few years the West Michigan men behind the machine hope to see their invention in use across the country.

The vacuum harvester may change the apple harvest the way digital cameras changed photography. You no longer need film to take pictures, and these workers no longer need ladders to reach apples at the tops of trees.

"We are looking at efficiencies, at least in the ladder production area. it's the hard to pick area," said Mike Rasch of DBR Conveyer Concepts.

Built in Conklin at Phil Brown Welding, the vacuum harvester allows four workers to easily travel the length of an orchard without ever bending over or reaching way out from the top of an unstable ladder.

"No ladders which is where maybe 90 percent of the injuries come in picking," said Phil Brown of DBR Conveyer Concepts.

The pickers each have their own vacuum hose used to send the apples to crates that follow them. On the way through the tubes, the apples are polished; it's full automation at its finest. Even the tractor powering and pulling the vacuum harvester is controlled by the pickers.

"Production has been growing and labor has been shrinking," said Rasch.

Rasch, a co-inventor says every year there are more apples to pick and fewer workers to do the job, so he sees efficiencies in the harvest as one big key to success in growing apples.

Only two vacuum harvesters have been built; one in Washington state and one in West Michigan. D.B.R. Conveyer Concepts is the company formed to take the vacuum harvester to the nation farming equipment market, and not just for apples.

"There's interest in citrus, and pomegranate," said Rasch.

And maybe best of all, it's Made in Michigan.

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