Harvesting is one of the largest production expenses. Profitability depends on developing an efficient way to harvest a high quality pack.
A conveyor system harvest aid that allows workers to pick continuously increases labor efficiency about three-fold. These devices involve a large financial commitment and will probably be used primarily by larger growers who produce broccoli year after year. Western growers use highly specialized teams for broccoli harvest, and mechanized harvest aids for sorting and boxing. (See description in box.)
Harvesters must judge head diameter and select only those heads that meet the criteria of the buyer of the crop. Heads that are malformed or becoming loose because they are past optimal maturity should be skipped.
The stem should be cut to the appropriate length for the customer. A common stem length for Eastern crown cut is 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Some customers prefer a shorter stem, and some will accept a longer stem. A longer stem results in a higher yield for the grower.
For bunches the stem will be considerably longer. After cutting, the leaves must be trimmed, either by pulling or by cutting with a knife. A glove that protects against cuts from the knife but still allows sufficient dexterity is a useful safety item.
Crowns are usually arranged in rows in the box for a neat appearance, minimized bruising, and better cooling. A standard box contains 21 to 22 pounds of crowns, though the nominal weight is 20 pounds. The exact number of heads will depend on the customer’s requirements.
Field-packed broccoli should be brought to the cooling facility promptly. At summer harvest temperatures, quality can decline substantially in as little as an hour.