harvester, farm machine that mechanically harvests a crop. Small-grain harvesting has been mechanized to a certain extent since early times. In the modern period the first harvester to gain general acceptance was made by Cyrus McCormick in 1831 (see reaper). More recently the combine has been developed for small-grain harvesting. The first mechanical cotton picker was patented in 1850, but, due to the supply of cheap labor, cotton harvesters did not gain acceptance until after World War II. Labor shortages have led to the development of a variety of harvesters adapted for almost every kind of agricultural crop, including tomatoes, grapes, nuts, cucumbers, and root crops, e.g., beets and potatoes. The most common exceptions are certain tree fruits. Nuts and some fruits, such as figs, are allowed to mature and fall to the ground where they are mechanically picked up. Hydraulic shakers have also been developed so that nuts and fruits, such as apricots, grapes, and plums, can be shaken from the tree or vine onto the ground or onto nets or belts. With some plants, such as tomatoes, special varieties have had to be developed that can withstand mechanical contact. The culinary quality of crops developed for mechanical harvesting is presently the cause of concern by consumer groups.
See C. Culpin, Farm Machinery (11th ed. 1986).