The prototype of what is hoped to be an affordable and efficient harvester for Spain’s traditional olive farms has been developed by researchers at the University of Córdoba.

With funding from the Interprofesional del Aceite de Oliva (Interprofessional), they have adapted a citrus canopy shaker from the United States into a towed machine that can shake down, catch, wash and weigh olives, and channel them into a hopper.

Moreover, the apparatus has been designed for use in traditional olive groves, where the use of conventional mechanical harvesters has generally not been feasible.

Interprofessional director Teresa Pérez said the organization had funded the project because “we want to be an engine of innovation in all fields that we consider to be strategic to the olive oil sector – the product and its properties, its health benefits, improvements in production – with the aim of increasing competitiveness.”

“The high cost of harvest is a major weakness of the traditional olive sector so we’ve made it a priority to find a technical solution that makes mechanical harvesting feasible for it.”

Speaking earlier in April at the Estepa Extra Virgin Olive Oil County Festival, in Seville, project leader Professor Jesús Gil Ribes said that one of the highlights of the prototype was its ability to catch the falling fruit.

“Tests have shown that the system is able to intercept up to 90 percent of the olives removed. Most importantly, it achieves a significant cost savings, since the entire process is automated,” he said.

An Interprofessional spokesman told Olive Oil Times the potential retail cost of such a machine was not yet known but the point of the project was to offer an affordable form of mechanization for traditional farms. It was hoped to have a product on the market within two years.

The prototype was able to handle a slight slope, he said. Terraces are common in the often marginally-profitable traditional olive groves of Andalusia.

The Interprofessional is a non-profit official organization which represents all members of Spain’s olive oil sector.

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