Good Fruit Grower

September 2016

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28 SEPTEMBER 2016 Good Fruit Grower T he International Fruit Tree Association's three-day study tour in drought-ridden upstate New York featured plenty of hor- ticultural tips and research updates for the roughly 275 growers who attended. But amid the dust and dry fi elds, a shiny, bright spot emerged: the power and potential of mechanization. Several growers shared their own experiences with mechanical pruning, hedging and platform technologies. Here, Good Fruit Grower highlights three of these efforts: The Wafl ers Paul Wafl er farms 1,100 acres in Wayne County, New York, including 450 acres of apples — producing 400,000 bushels annually — with one-third of their acreage nonbearing. Paul and brother Walter, president of their Huron Fruit System fi rm, design and build orchard equipment — something that's been a lifelong obsession for Paul. He tinkered with machines as a youngster and, in his early teens, began fi xing lawn mowers. He became so enthralled with machines and how they worked, he fi lled the family's basement with his projects. These days, the Wafl ers build and sell machines that are designed to improve orchard worker efficiency, including a two-row hedger that cuts time spent at the task by half, signifi cantly reducing costs. The crown jewel of their company is a two-piece pack- age consisting of a self-propelled, mobile platform and an automated bin loader. Paul Wafl er said it provides a 30 to 50 percent effi ciency boost in clean picks and dou- bles effi ciency in spot picking. Workers generally fi ll fi ve bins in about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on picking quality and fruit size, and the farm has eliminated the use of ladders. The platforms are assembled from precut steel, sent out for painting and returned to be equipped with motors and hydraulics. Finished platforms feature an inclined central track with rollers on both sides, where the bins are situated. Six worker platforms, three on either side at three different heights, extend upward alongside the bin rack, enabling crews to pick fruit, prune, thin or tie trees. Mechanization is rolling along IFTA New York study tour Innovative New York growers fi nd success with platforms and more. by Dave Weinstock

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