We imagine a farm to be a place where people celebrate simplicity and get back to the land, and why not? Most of our food is sold to us that way. But farms are big business, and they’re more high-tech, with more specialized machines, than most people ever imagine.
Here we have a net harvester, the smaller and low-tech end of the spectrum of olive harvesting machines. Its design is pretty simple. It grasps the tree, spreads a net around the bottom, and shakes the living shit out of the thing. Olives fall into the net.
If there’s no hurry to pick up the olives, you could let them drop to the ground, and pick them up and drop them into a bin with this soft spiked rubber wheel.
Then there is the ED-209 of olive harvesting. It’s a giant machine that engulfs the entire tree. Once the tree is inside, it works using the same principle as the net harvester, shaking the tree to get the olives to drop—although these olives dump out into a huge sidecar bin.
If you think that’s a major piece of machinery to use on olive trees, check out the unleashed hell of a carrot harvest. Carrot plants don’t need to survive the harvest, so the giant machine basically scoops out everything in the row of carrots to get to the vegetables. You can see the carrots dangling from the machine like the decapitated heads of a warlord’s enemies before they get dusted off and tossed over into a huge collecting bin.
Machines aren’t limited to the harvest. Every part of the growing cycle takes hard work. When the farm gets big enough, it’s sometimes impossibly hard to maintain with traditional “grab a rake” techniques. That’s why this Dr. Seuss creation of a machine was invented. It’s meant to hoe the ground around growing apple trees. The cab needs to sit above the trees, making the machine ridiculous tall.
When it’s time to harvest the apples, go ahead and do it with a machine that makes them hop around like popcorn kernels. Every stage of an apple’s life should look like a cartoon in which a villain has devised an ingenious machine that lets him take over the world.
These are most likely cider or sauce apples, which don’t have to be in great condition. The apples you see in the grocery store haven’t been thrown around like this. That doesn’t mean they’re free of mechanical intervention. Even when the picking is done by hand, machines are involved.
These workers are harvesting apples and then feeding them into what can only be described as an “apple vacuum.” I’m particularly fond of the gentle foam whirligig on the other end of the vacuum that catches the apples and sets them carefully in the collection bin.
Strawberries are more delicate and closer to the ground than most other fruits. So clearly the only way to harvest them properly is to grow them in special containers so the berries hang down over the sides of the container. Then you can harvest them using a machine that looks like a cross between a loom and a robot octopus.
A lot of harvesting machine promotional videos have incongruously hardcore music over them—as if the machine were going out to battle The Reds. This harvester, leveling mushrooms so fast that it can barely shoot them out fast enough, is very much the electric death machine of the farm world.
No matter what you think about conservation or natural farming techniques, there’s only one reaction to this one: holy shit.
Flowers don’t have it much easier than trees. Tulips are especially easy to harvest because they grow one to a stem, straight up and down, and achieve a uniform height. They’re also relatively tough. But it might feel a little less special to receive tulip bouquets after you’ve seen them mowed over and left in the dirt. Or, who knows? It might feel more special, since there’s clearly a lot of engineering prowess put into each bouquet.
It’s probably not a surprise that corn is heavily mechanized. Of all the crops on Earth, corn has become the one that most symbolizes “agribusiness.” But companies are working towards a time when corn harvesting won’t be done by a machine—it will be done by a whole fleet of machines.
Corn harvesters are judged by how many rows they can harvest at once. Right now, a 16 row harvester is pretty good. In the future, farmers will harvest with 20 row harvesters, which need to be followed by multiple trucks in order to collect all the corn that the harvester is spitting out. If we do follow through on our plans to ban cars, the country will be ringing with the sound of more heavy machinery than the city.