Growing blueberries is just half the process of producing them here in the Valley. The other half is a packing plant that swiftly processes the delicate fruit.
Jon Marthedal and even some plant employees remember a time not too long ago when everything was done by hand.
In fact, he says they began with a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood.
Two decades later, blueberries flow from washing to sorting, packaging to shipping in a high-tech blue blur.
Computers using electric eyes sort off-color green and red berries in seconds.
Removing soft blueberries is another challenge. Marthedal says, “It’s really difficult to look at a piece of fruit and see that it’s soft. And it’s impossible to handle every blueberry that goes across the line.”
The high-tech solution? Sound waves are used to detect squishy berries.
After ultrasound, soft berries are collected from the swiftly-moving conveyor with a carefully-aimed puff of air.
People do the rest of the checking before bands and belts sort the berries by size.
All the while tracked electronically from source to shipping.
Machines measure and fill a dozen packages at once, imprinting a reference code on each one.
Marthedal says, “If you don’t employ the new technology then in a lot of cases, you are either are not as efficient as the packing house down the street or impact the final product.”