Susan Hagness and her research group at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have applied their expertise in electromagnetics to a number of areas including medical imaging and cancer therapies. Now her team is working on a device to help cranberry growers with the laborious task of counting their fruit.
The current method of estimating cranberry crop yield is to harvest the berries within 1 square foot (929 square centimeters) of a bog or marsh, count them by hand, and extrapolate from there. Because there might be hundreds of berries per square foot, the process can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Also, the process is imprecise. “There can be numerous varieties of cranberries growing on any given farm, and not all varieties yield the same amount of fruit,” Hagness says.
Growers have been looking for a technological solution to more accurately and efficiently estimate the size and quality of their crop, she says. Two years ago, Ben Tilberg, an Ocean Spray agricultural scientist in Wisconsin, contacted the university with an idea. (Ocean Spray, a cooperative of more than 700 farms, is a leading producer of cranberry products. Its headquarters is in Lakeville, Mass.)