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Hammocks reduce harvest rough and tumble.

Dale Marshall is spending his days experimenting with hammocks. But he's not gearing up for retirement; he's trying to maintain the quality of harvested vegetables.

Carrots, cucumbers, onions, and potatoes are easily damaged during harvest - especially when the crops are dumped from a harvester into a high-lift trailer and then into a semi-trailer truck. In many cases, the produce may plummet up to 8 feet before it hits bottom. "The most damage occurs to the first 6 to 8 inches of the crop that hits the bare steel bottom of a trailer," says Marshall, an agricultural engineer in the ARS Fruit and Vegetable Harvesting Research Unit at East Lansing, Michigan.

He found that a simple piece of reinforced vinyl with its corners attached to the sides of the trailer with tarp straps will break the fall and reduce damage to the produce. The empty hammock sits 24 to 36 inches off the bottom of the trailer, so instead of dropping the full height of the trailer onto a rigid surface, the vegetables will fall just a few feet, onto a flexible surface.

Tests show that for the first 6 to 8 inches of carrots dumped into an empty steel trailer, the hammock reduces damage by two-thirds. Damage to the other three crops being evaluated - cucumbers, potatoes, and onions - is reduced by about 50 percent.

Farmers are paid less for damaged produce than for top-quality. With carrots, it amounts to a reduction of about $1 per high-lift load.

Marshall feels confident that the high-lift hammock would pay for its $350 to $400 cost in just I year, based on 30 loads per day during harvest. However, it would take up to 2 or 3 years to offset the cost of equipping semi-trailers with the hammock, because they are commonly filled and emptied only four or five times a week.

During tests last fall on Michigan farms, vegetable growers gave the hammocks high marks.

"These hammocks have a lot going for them," says Marshall. "They're basically inexpensive, easy to install and remove, and repairable."

Marshall is optimistic that the various hammock designs will be commercially available to vegetable growers in the near future.

Inspiration for the hammock came after a trip to Scandinavia in August 1991. Marshall learned of a similar system used in Holland, but thought it was too expensive. He contacted Orion Corporation of Sarasota, Florida, and has been working with the company to design a hammock that will provide the greatest damage reduction.
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Title Annotation:reduced produce damage
Author:Gerrietts, Marcie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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