Good Fruit Grower

November 2012

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New Technology MACHINES in Quebec pple growers in Canada's Quebec Province aren't having the labor problems U.S. growers have. They have access to His- panic workers from Central America through a federal program, much like the U.S. H-2A guest-worker program, and it apparently functions more effectively. Quebec growers aren't complaining about labor Apple growers in Quebec are adopting orchard machines. quantity or quality, but they are interested in mechanization. They would like to adopt worker- assist machines, like platforms and harvesters, that would reduce their need for imported labor and allow them to rely more heavily on local labor. Orchard operations in Que- bec tend to be less than 100 acres in size, and many have local employees who find full-time work there. Growers are not only showing by Richard Lehnert interest in machines, they are buy- ing them. During the International Fruit Tree Association summer tour to the Monteregie region of Quebec, between Montreal and the province's bor- der with New York and Vermont, several growers showed off machines they had purchased. Some showed how they were designing their orchards to adapt to the machines, but others plan to utilize machinery without going to high-density plantings on trellis systems. Hilliness doesn't appear to be an issue. Located in the St. Lawrence River Valley, Monteregie is flat as a pancake except for the remains of some ancient volcanic hills that rise more than a thou- sand feet, sprouting out of nowhere. Some orchardists plant the lower slopes and get great air drainage, but when they do, trees usually run up and down long gentle slopes where machines can travel easily. Harvester That was the case at David Guerdin's orchard, huddled at the base of Mont Yamaska, which rises out of flatness to 1,348 feet. There, Guerdin grows about 50 acres of high-density, fertigated apple trees, and fruit are sold through the farm's market. The orchard contains 15 varieties of apples and 15 acres of grapes. The market makes and sells cider and wine, along with apples and other products. The orchard purchased a mobile picking/ packing machine, manufactured by Munckhof Manufacturing of Horst, the Netherlands, and called the Pluk-O-Trak in Europe. David said he 18 NOVEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER paid for the $65,000 machine in three years and then bought a second one. A third one is being purchased now. The machine paid for itself not only by boosting picker efficiency, he said, but by reducing bruising 15 percent and eliminating the need for sorting in the packing shed. The machine has a system for lowering fruit into the bin without bruising it— moving it by soft rubber fingers onto a soft, rotat- ing brush. Another feature that helps the payoff is that the conveyors and bin filler can be removed, the bin filler replaced with an air compressor, and the machine used as a platform to prune or to hand thin. The machine looks similar to vacuum machines being developed by DBR and Picker Technologies, except that instead of vacuum tubes, it has conveyors with soft fingers and belts of rubber. Apples are picked by hand and laid into six conveyors, two serving workers walking and picking low fruit, and four on platforms picking high fruit. The conveyors can be moved, but are not as flexible as vacuum tubes. David said the machine works best on 3 by 14- foot plantings, and his are very close to that, at 3 by 15 feet. Workers pick on rows on both sides of the machines. The eight-person crew includes two who sort the fruit, putting discards into a tray that can be dumped periodically into a bin. Four others ride and pick into conveyors, while two walk and pick into conveyors. A bin hauler is towed behind the self-propelled machine. It takes 8 to 10 minutes to fill a bin, and 35 to 40 seconds to change bins, Guerdin said. Darwin thinner The Darwin string thinner is taking off in Cali- fornia and in the Mid-Atlantic states as a blossom thinner for peaches. But in one Quebec orchard, it is being used for the purpose for which it was orig- inally designed, as an apple blossom thinner. It was intended for use in organic apple orchards, where good chemical thinners are lacking. Conventional wisdom in the United States says that it won't work without doing massive damage, since apples have both leaves and blossoms at bloom-time, and damaged leaves are magnets for fireblight. But in Quebec, Danny Boileau says the Darwin does not damage his trees when he uses it at 20 percent bloom. Fireblight is a threat in Quebec. The leaves are very small then, he says. This was his second year using the Darwin. "I'm really happy with the results," he said. An air compressor (orange tank above) mounts on the Munckhof to power pruning equipment. Note the conveyor that places apples into the bin during harvest. Soft rubber fingers bring apples down into the bin and place them on a rotating, soft brush. Danny Boileau uses the Darwin string thinner (above) to thin apple blossoms. The machine was designed for use in organic orchards in Germany.

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