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Here’s the best way to harvest avocados

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The avocado harvesting season, which ordinarily runs from April to September every year, is here again. Farmers are, therefore, a busy lot and so are brokers, but not as busy as when the export market is open.

Around this time, brokers are normally doing brisk business, moving from one farm to another in search of fruits at the lowest prices, which they either sell to exporters or traders in the local market.

Harvesting tips 

The booming trade has seen farmers over the years employ traditional, rushed methods of harvesting the fruit, leading to higher post-harvest losses.

These methods include shaking trees for the fruits to fall, using a pole with a Y-shaped head that cuts the stalk for the avocado to fall on the ground and climbing the tree with a sack to harvest.

The three methods are popular among farmers despite the damage they cause to both the trees and the fruits, leading to much waste as immature fruits get harvested or damaged.

Moses, a farmer with 95 avocado trees, knows the pain of such practices. “I have lost tens of fruits once the harvesting is done. Despite shaking the trees for the fruits to fall, brokers never buy the damaged produce. They leave the fruits on the ground,” he says.

Sometimes is forced to repeat the harvesting as brokers leave fruits that are out of reach by hand on the trees.

“I have to get back on the farm and use a long stick to detach the stalk from the tree for them to fall onto the ground. I later sell them locally,” he explains, acknowledging he loses up to 40 percent of his avocado produce.

Improvised on the farm

Well, for quality avocados and more income, you do not have to use such methods.

One of the simplest, but most efficient method of picking the fruits is through the use of a pole picker, which can be purchased or improvised on the farm.

The pole picker consists of a long, light wooden or metal frame on which a basket with a smooth inside is attached at the top. The gadget has a sharp cutter, which helps detach the fruit from the tree.

The pole picker is used to harvest fruits from taller trees. It thus comes in handy as it is steady and can extend up to five metres.

On the pole picker, a cutter is pivoted on one side and is connected to a rope and spring, which, once pulled, cuts the stalk.

The pole picker is designed in such a way that the basket is positioned right below the cutter so that once the stalk is cut, the fruit falls into the basket.

“A well-made pole picker should be light yet long and strong enough to harvest more fruits and at different heights. It should also be maneuverable to provide precision harvesting and reach heights that would otherwise require a ladder,” says Bernard Kinoti, an agricultural extension officer.

Kinoti notes that using the picker, fruits are harvested in a professional manner, with stalks cut some 10mm to 15mm from the fruits as required.

“The fruits are then netted into the basket where they are cushioned from any bruising or damage. Using the clipper ensures fruits don’t end up with injuries that make them vulnerable to rot or diseases.”

Once harvested, produce must be placed in a shade to avoid exposure from direct sunlight, which would accelerate ripening, thus shortening the shelf-life of the fruit.

Harvest only mature fruits

A pole picker can carry five to 10 fruits, depending on their weight and the height, and the strength of the person picking.

“If one is harvesting fruits from greater heights, the lesser the fruits one can hold for longer and vice versa, but again one is advised not to hold so many fruits, to avoid bruising and damaging them,” says Kinoti.

Gideon, an avocado farmer with 250 trees, who uses a pole picker, says only mature fruits should be harvested.

“Using a pole picker, one harvests only mature fruits at any height of the tree without having to damage it,” Gideon explains. The farmer says he has been able to minimise post-harvest losses from 60 percent to five per cent.

“The fruits do not get mechanical damage, which boosts their market value. It is not a very quick method, but one is sure they end up with quality produce,” says Gideon, noting he saves cash on labour as he employs two to four people to harvest an acre unlike when it comes to shaking the tree where one employs up to 10 people.

The pole picker can also be used to pick mangoes, apple, lemon, lime and coconut, among other fruits.

How to make a pole picker 

•You need a strong pole to make a picker, but it should not be heavy.

•This can either be wooden or metallic and should be smooth from outside for easy handling.

•On one end of the pole, a spring is attached to hold the cutter, which is positioned on the left-hand side.

•A basket with a metallic groove is attached right next to the cutter. Once the fruit is cut, it falls right into the basket.

•The basket should be made in such a way that it is soft inside.