Machines boost profits and fill the labour gap

Harvesting Pruning April 30, 2022

Innovative orchard machinery has played a huge part in this years’ Australian summer harvest, and it is expected that this will accelerate in years to come.

Driven by a desire to make orchard activities more efficient and in response to labour pressures, orchardists are investing in machinery and seeing great returns.

Inspired Ag, based in the Goulburn Valley, are leading the charge with innovative orchard machinery. Their COO – Catriona Saunders – says growers quickly see the value achieved from introducing more machinery into their day-to-day operations.

She said orchard platforms are becoming much more prevalent in Australian orchards and are particularly attractive due to the number of workers that can be accommodated.

Inspired Ag’s Billo platforms (see image above) are designed and manufactured in Italy. The platforms come in three main configurations – large flat deck (with moveable wings), split deck (with moveable wings and the option of three platforms at different heights) and conveyor belt.

Orchardists can also choose from a long list of accessories that they can add to suit their operations.

“We’ve been receiving lots of feedback from this current season on how orchardists have used their Billos, including an orchardist in Queensland who only has a two-week harvest window,” Ms Saunders said.

“It rained for the harvest and if they’d been relying on cherry pickers, they would have lost half the crop. Fortunately, their Billo saved the day and the cost savings have well and truly paid off their platform!”

Ms Saunders said the Billo and Inspired Ag teams work very closely on product development, meaning grower requests can often be accommodated into designs.

“We’re really excited that Billo have now developed an extra-wide and extra-height platform that is 5.1m in width with its wings open and the base is at 3.2m height. We are getting a lot of interest in this product as it can be used for installing structures and netting; and for orchards that have extra-wide rows such as citrus and avocadoes,” Ms Saunders said.

“Conveyor platforms are becoming increasingly popular, not only to drive efficiencies, but orchardists also see a reduction in bruising and stem punctures which can increase bin returns by over 10%.

“The conveyors on our Billo Tapis can be removed, so that the platform can be used more effectively for other orchard activities throughout the year. Billo platforms will become your most used machine in your orchard,” she said.

Another popular machine is the Olmi leaf remover (see imge below) which is also designed and manufactured in Italy. It has two galvanised metal shrouds with four blowers. The shrouds can move from vertical to angled, making the Olmi perfect for all trellis types and hard-to-access plantings.

The Olmi moves at about 1.2 km/hour resulting in over 3ha of orchard being covered in one day. “Our growers are seeing great returns on their Olmi and for an orchard over 10ha, there’s potential for a one-year payback,” Ms Saunders said.

“We’ve also received fantastic feedback on the quality of the componentry and engineering – growers can see that they’re built to last.”

Other ways that growers are future proofing their orchard is by ensuring that their new block developments are ‘machine ready’. This means they are setting up trellis systems – including 2D and very defined fruiting walls – that are conducive to platform work and ready for robotics.

"It's great to see orchardists planning ahead with their developments. They might not currently have the capital or requirements to introduce new machines, but they want to make sure that their orchard is developed to get the most out of machines when that time comes,” Ms Saunders said.

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