Mechanical harvesters were developed in the 1980s, first produced in Brazil and the US and more recently in Australia. As Thompson Owen explains in this video (below) the business model of countries with relatively high wage costs such as Australia, Hawaii and Brazil cannot afford the labour costs to employ large groups of hand pickers anymore. Owen feels it is unlikely the job role of coffee picker will continue to be attractive to farm workers as these many coffee producing countries in South and Central America continue to industrialise.
Green Buyer, Thompson Owen of Sweet Maria’s walks through a Brazilian coffee estate and discusses the changing business model of coffee farms in South and Central America
Farms that are situated on relatively flat land have recourse to using fully mechanised harvesters such as the ones that you see in the video below. These self-propelled machines can harvest a whole tree in 2–3 seconds (Skybury, 2016). For these harvesters to be viable, trees must be planted in neat rows, with enough space for the harvester to fit between rows. The harvester arches over the whole plant and the foliage is combed by two rotating spindles which pass on either side of the coffee plant’s main trunk. The spindles usually have flexible fiberglass arms so as not to do too much damage to the branches of the tree. The cherry fall onto a set of slats known as a ‘fish plate’ — because it looks like the scales of a fish — at the bottom of the trunk of the tree. The slats catch the cherries after they fall off the branches, guiding them into channels at each side of the harvester. From here, cherries are guided into pneumatic separators to help remove twigs and leaves. Cherries are then blown out into a trailer pulled by a tractor, which is travelling through a neighbouring row (J.N. Wintgens, 2004).
This video from the Australian coffee estate Skybury, shows you up-close exactly how a machine harvester works.