Good Fruit Grower

August 2013

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Optimizing Production The WaflerCornell apple harvester T he owner of Wafler Nursery in Wolcott, New York, is working with Cornell University to perfect an apple harvesting system that will help pickers be more efficient. Paul Wafler, a nurseryman who also designs and invents orchard machines, is working with the university on an idea to keep workers picking with both hands, with virtually no downtime. They don't need to set ladders or climb them or hold on to them as they pick. They don't need to carry apples and walk to bins. With the Wafler-Cornell machine, workers do wear traditional picking bags that hang in front of them from the traditional harness. And they do need to dump the bags, but they need to move less than a step to do that. They work on a uniquely designed, self-propelled, multilevel platform. Wafler described the Wafler-Cornell system to more than 200 growers during the Precision Management Summit in Geneva, New York, in March. Cornell University's intellectual property unit is working through the process of patenting the system. Wafler has been working on this harvesting system for several years. In August 2010, he showed visitors his then-prototype during an International Fruit Tree Association tour that included both a long look as his family's nursery and by Richard Lehnert a demonstration of equipment Wafler is working on. Not only was he developing the harvester, he was working on platforms and hedgers as well. "I've built nine prototypes," he said of his latest harvester, "and this is the one I like." PART VI: It's fast, working without bin fillers or frequent stops to change bins. Meanwhile, however, work did continue in Europe, and orchard designs were being changed in ways that make trees more amenable to thinning and pruning using platforms, and potentially harvest as well. The Munckhof company has, for several years, been marketing a machine in which pickers, some walking and some riding on platforms, pick apples into mechanical conveyors, and packers can fill boxes as they ride, or the apples go through a bin filler into a bin. "The cost of the machine with a 10year depreciation would give an annual cost of 10 percent of its purchase price." Change of focus In the United States, after finding that shakers could not deliver enough unbruised apples to be workable, and that robots couldn't be trained to find, pick, and bag fruit fast enough to be economical, the idea shifted back to finding ways to use the human eye, hand, and brain to Bin handling pick and have machines help them do the To Wafler, and to Cornell University horticulturist Dr. job faster and easier, Robinson said. Terence Robinson, the road to improving harvest effiIn the new design, the five bins sit on a ciency must address bin handling and filling. Looking at sloping self-propelled platform that other machines, like the Munckhof Pluk-O-Trak mechanmoves down the alley between two rows of ical conveyor system and the DBR and Oxbow vacuum apple trees. Four workers are positioned —Terence Robinson conveyor systems, they see bottlenecks at the bin filler on platforms at different levels on either and the bin changing system. It is not efficient to have to side of the bins. Each picks in his or her position, fill, and unload one bin at a time, stopping to make the bin change, they say. own zone. Some are positioned to pick apples from the In this system, eight workers on platforms fill five bins at a time, and the five bins tops of trees, others from the middle, another from the move and stay together. They are offloaded and five bins reloaded in less time than it lower branches. Nobody walks. takes a worker to fill a picking sack. Thus picking is continuous, and the bins change as Because the bins sit on a sloping surface, each worker the machine moves. is able to stand directly beside a bin, no matter what level Bins are on a trailer (not scattered about the orchard) and come in at the front of the he or she is on. The bins are tilted slightly, an advantage, machine and go off at the rear. Wafler has developed a bin hauler that brings in five new Wafler said. Each picker dumps his or her sack into the bins and picks up all five filled bins at one time and hauls them out of the orchard. vee at the bottom of each bin, so apples don't rattle As Cornell horticulturist Dr. Terence Robinson sees it, machine harvest was on its way around on the bottom of the bins. into the apple industry already in the 1970s, when shakers came in to harvest stone fruits. The machine itself is self-propelled, runs on low horseThen, by government edict, USDA support for all work on mechanical harvest was power, is high torque, consumes little fuel, and is quiet. stopped and attention refocused on hand labor and the working conditions of pickers. The speed of the hydrostatic unit can be matched to crop Not only did USDA harvester research stop, grants to university agricultural engineering size and picking conditions, and can also be set to move departments working on machine harvest stopped as well. for a time, then stop for a few seconds. 16 AUGUST 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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