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AG Harvesters in the News

Researchers Use Steam To Treat Citrus Greening

University of Florida News | Read the Full Article

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers are turning to the old-fashioned method of steaming to help treat citrus greening, a disease devastating citrus trees throughout Florida.

Reza Ehsani and his UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences colleagues are tenting and then enveloping trees in steam that is 136 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 seconds in an attempt to kill the citrus greening bacterium.

The disease starves the tree of nutrients and produces fruits that are green and misshapen — unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or juice. Most infected trees die within a few years. The disease has affected millions of citrus trees in North America.

“We have heat-treated about 800 trees, so far, and we are monitoring and collecting data from those trees to evaluate the effectiveness of our approach,” said Ehsani, who will present his findings Friday at the International Citrus Beverage Conference in Clearwater.

He pointed out that steam treatment is not a cure because it cannot reach the trees’ root systems.

“We are hoping by buying time we can keep the industry in production until a more permanent cure is found,” Ehsani said.

Ehsani’s team includes postdoctoral researcher Ahmed Al-Jumaili, graduate student Stefani Leavitt, doctoral student Cininta Pertiwi and technicians Roy Sweeb and Sherrie Buchanon. In addition to steaming, they have tested various heat methods, including solar and dry heat. While results are still being tallied, they found that steaming worked best because it is fastest, made the most noticeable difference and weather variability had no noticeable effect.

“Growers are already tenting individual trees and using heat from the sun to reduce the greening bacterium in the tree canopy,” said Jackie Burns, director of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred. ”But this takes days to achieve the correct temperature and killing time. Dr. Ehsani and his colleagues have worked out these details and are automating the process. We need a tool to treat thousands of trees quickly in a commercial setting.”

There are some drawbacks. Heat-treated trees usually drop their old leaves and a significant number of new shoots develop on the tree. Those tender new leaves then attract the Asian citrus psyllid, the bug that carries the greening bacterium, and so the likelihood of reinfection after treatment is extremely high.

Heat treatment, also known as thermotherapy, has been used since the 1920s and was first tested to eliminate pathogens from seeds, especially bacteria. It has since been applied to other plant parts, including seedlings, roots and whole trees. It became the preferred method of treatment because it is simple, easy to use and less expensive.

Although current methods to control the spread of citrus greening are limited to the removal and destruction of infected trees, UF/IFAS researchers are working to defeat it on a number of fronts, including trying to eradicate the psyllid, breeding citrus rootstock that shows better greening resistance and testing laboratory treatments that could be used on trees.


By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302,
Source: Reza Ehsani, 863-956-8770,

BEI Demise Spurs Race to Fill Blueberry Harvester Void


FruitGrowers News | Read the Full Article

When BEI International, a South Haven, Michigan, agriculture equipment supplier, went defunct last April, it left several growers throughout the country without their promised harvesting equipment and parts, and with little hope of recouping their thousands of dollars in investments.

BEI’s demise also accelerated efforts to fill the demand for blueberry harvesters, equipment and services.

BEI had been one of the few companies that specialized in manufacturing and fitting blueberry harvesters. Its machines were popular and in widespread use for decades. The company’s bank called BEI’s loan because the manufacturer was unable to meet its obligations. Its assets were turned over to its secured creditor. The bank’s action resulted in an auction of the remaining equipment, parts and furnishings at the company’s South Haven facility, which attracted dozens of interested buyers, including some who had been caught up in the company’s tainted business dealings.

It also set in motion plans by at least three newer entries into the harvester market, although all of them had some previous experience working with BEI on various projects in the past, and brought levels of expertise to the business that made sense for blueberry harvester production.

AG Harvesters

Brandon Schnettler, plant manager for AG Harvesters, located in Au Gres, Michigan, on the east side of the state, explained the features of that company’s new blueberry harvester at the Great Lakes EXPO, as well as what compelled the long-time custom equipment supplier to get into the harvester game.

“It was unfortunate what happened to the (BEI) employees,” Schnettler said. “BEI had come to us for fabrication and machine support to help fulfill some orders. We did what we could. We saw an opportunity and a good product.”

AG Harvesters is a division of ATD Engineering & Machine, which has been in business since 1956, building automated foundry equipment.

The company’s Model 3000 four-wheel drive harvester is a BEI-style machine with a 90-degree turning radius, top-loading elevator design with a rotary or sway picking mechanism. The company also will offer a Model 2000 tracked machine. It has a rear load or top load design and comes with a rotary or sway picking mechanism.

Its smaller model 1750 is designed for high-density crop production, such as that seen in parts of Georgia.

“It’s just a little bit of a new industry for us but it involves the same technology we’ve been supplying all these years,” Schnettler said.

He said BEI had come to ATD to inquire about machining and custom design work.

“Nobody wants to see a company fail,” he said. “We tried everything we could to assist and bring costs down on framing, modifications and engineering. We didn’t want to see their customers go without a product, so we did some reverse engineering on what we saw (BEI) was doing and this is what we have.”

AG Harvesters has jumped head first into producing agricultural solutions, including further development of a tomato harvesting machine and a high-volume citrus steaming unit.

“We think we can bring a lot to the industry because our engineering staff can see things in a lot of different ways,” he said. “This (BEI) harvester has been around for 20 years with very little tweaking. We see opportunities (to make it better).”


 – Gary Pullano