Good Fruit Grower

November 2013

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New Equipment & Technology Simplicity is THE KEY E very orchard platform that J.J. Dagorret manufactures comes with a built-in stereo. Of course, that's not the most critical feature, but it speaks to Dagorret's objective, which is to help growers keep their workers happy, safe, and productive. Dagorret, owner of Automated Ag Systems, has 20 years of experience in building harvesting equipment for various crops. He grew up in California and after leaving school joined his father, John, in custom harvesting of fruit and vegetable crops. Dagorret, who had some experience in welding, would make modifications to the harvesting machines, and then started building complete machines. "I seemed to have a knack for it," he said. In addition to harvesting machines, he developed a machine called the Bin B andit for transporting multiple fruit bins, and had customers in Washington State. After a few years, he had the opportunity to move to Tampa, Florida, to do custom harvesting of oranges. There, he built machines for harvesting onions, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and other vegetables, but growers had little interest in mechanization because of plentiful labor. When he tried to sell his Bin Bandit to the New York apple industry, growers told him it was too wide for their modern plantings. Whereas Washington growers were by Geraldine Warner using a tractor to haul bins from between the rows to a staging area to be hauled away by the Bin Bandit, New York growers said they wanted a Bin Bandit narrow enough to go down the alleys to pick up bins. "So, we decided we would go back and build a machine that was narrow enough to go in the tree rows," he said. That led to the idea of building narrow platforms to carry workers through the orchard for pruning, thinning, and harvesting. The thought of working with the apple industry and its progressive growers was appealing, plus there were some things about Florida that Dagorret disliked: The congestion, the weather, the reptiles, and "everything that lands on you and bites." So, two years ago he moved to Moses Lake, Washington— where people, traffic, rain, and biting bugs are scarce—and established a shop for manufacturing orchard platforms. Growers and pickers can't afford down time. Keep it simple After studying of how apples are harvested and thinking through every detail, he built a prototype for testing. He kept the design simple and used readily available components to make it affordable, effective, and reliable. This year, he unveiled his commercial model, the Bandit Xpress. "The key was keeping it very simple so if there's an issue it can be fixed quickly and inexpensively and you don't have to have a NASA scientist fly in to fix it," he said. "It has to be simple, simple, simple, simple. Mother Nature just doesn't wait on broken-down equipment. It just has to run." When workers use a platform instead of a ladder, they are safer, less fatigued, and able to pick more fruit per shift, he says. Because the work is less physically demanding and requires no experience, the potential labor pool is greater. How it works At harvest, bins are deposited throughout the orchard in the usual manner. The platform is 84 inches wide and 22 feet long and is ideal for vertical plantings with ten feet between rows, though it has side extensions for rows as far apart as 16 feet. 24 NOVEMBER 2013 Good Fruit Grower Dan Plath says Washington Fruit and Produce Company uses platforms for pruning, thinning, and tree training, and is assessing the impact of using platforms at harvest on picking efficiency.

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