UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new agricultural engineering shop at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center will, when completed, enhance research capabilities that ultimately will benefit growers, according to the center’s director and one researcher who will use the facility
Groundbreaking took place Nov. 6 for the new shop, which was made possible in part by funding from the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania. The facility is expected to enable the fabrication and testing of machinery and other technologies aimed at helping growers improve efficiency, reduce costs and overcome labor shortages.
Located in Biglerville, Adams County, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s fruit belt, the Fruit Research and Extension Center — often referred to as FREC — is an important resource for the state’s tree-fruit industry, which produces apples and peaches valued at more than $100 million annually.
“Because of the challenges we face with labor availability, it is critical for the future of the Pennsylvania fruit industry that we investigate labor-saving technologies,” said Jayson Harper, FREC director and professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “With the support of the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania, we are making the necessary investment in a facility to develop and test the technologies that growers will use for the next 50 years.”
Among the scientists whose research will benefit from the ag engineering shop is Long He, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering. He studies machinery and automation for orchard operations such as pruning and harvesting, as well as sensor-based precision technologies for irrigation and pest management.
“Currently, we have only a very small area and limited machine tools available for fabrication,” said He. “We need to have additional tools and space to build and pretest larger-scale experimental systems before we move them out to the orchard.”
Research outcomes achieved at the center are transferred to growers via Penn State Extension educational programs, noted He.
“Our goal is to help keep the industry viable by providing technologies and other assistance that reduce costs, minimize water and pesticide use, and increase labor efficiencies,” he said. “I’m grateful to the association and the College of Agricultural Sciences for supporting a facility that will help us fulfill this mission.”
–Chuck Gill, Penn State University