Good Fruit Grower

April 1

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Equipment Platform improves EFFICIENCY T his spring, Stemilt Growers began testing a versatile orchard machine that could help reduce its labor needs and costs. The motorized platform was developed by two Washington companies, Auvil Fruit Company and Van Doren Sales, primarily for apple harvesting. It has been tested at Auvil Fruit Company���s Vantage ranch for the past several years and continues to be refined. The platform has two levels where workers stand to pick apples from the tops of the trees. Two workers walk in front of the machine picking the lowest fruit from the ground. They place the apples onto conveyor belts that transport the fruit to the rear of the platform where two people sort out the culls and place them in chutes going down to the ground. The packable fruit goes into a rotating bin filler that Van Doren developed. At other times of year, the fruit-handling components of the machine can be removed from the platform so that it can be used for other tasks, such as pruning, thinning, tree training, or hanging pheromone dispensers, making the machine more cost effective. Van Doren Sales, whose primary busiby Geraldine Warner ness is manufacturing postharvest equipment for packing houses, has gone into partnership with Littau Harvester of Stayton, Oregon, to manufacture and market the machines. Bret Pittsinger, president at Van Doren Sales, said Littau has expertise in building and selling mobile harvesting units for other crops, such as blueberries, and seemed like the logical Scott Driscoll, Stemilt area manager, said pruning costs were reduced by partner. A machine originally designed for harvesting can be used to improve efficiency of many orchard tasks. Stemilt 30 percent as soon as workers began using the platform rather than ladders. Auvil Fruit Company has eight of the machines now. Stemilt took out a rental agreement this spring for two machines at its 330-acre orchard at White Trail Road, Quincy, and began using them for pruning. The Quincy orchard was planted with platforms and worker-assist technology in mind. Trees are spaced three or four feet apart with 12 feet between rows. They are trained on an upright slender spindle system, unlike Auvil Fruit Company���s V trellis. Stemilt previously used a simple tractor-drawn platform for jobs where workers needed to reach the tops of the trees and had eliminated ladders for everything except harvest, said Scott Driscoll, Stemilt Ag Service���s regional manager. For pruning, the new platform is equipped with air compressors and hydraulic tools for six workers. Four work from the ground (two in front of the machine and two behind) pruning the lower parts of the trees, and two stand on the platform to reach the upper tree canopy. 34 April 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER The machine has a dedicated driver and moves at about one mile per hour for pruning, though it can go faster or slower for other jobs. Workers rotate during a shift, so that they all get a chance to ride on the platform, which is less tiring than walking. But the main benefits to workers are the hydraulic tools, which make pruning much less physically tiring than when using hand loppers, Driscoll said. And that, in turn, makes the job go faster. Right from the start, workers were 30 percent more efficient, in terms of cost and speed. Driscoll said workers like using the machine. ���A lot of people���within the first ten minutes���love it,��� he said.

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