If you're thinking of using mechanical harvesting for your apple orchard, you must think ahead and plant accordingly.
That was the take-home message from a demonstration of the DBR Vacuum Apple Harvest Machine demonstrated in five Michigan orchards recently, according to a Michigan State University grower newsletter from Extension specialist Philip Schwallier.
The demonstations were a collaborative effort among the Michigan Apple Committee, Michigan State University Extension and DBR Conveyor Concepts LLC of Conklin, Mich.
The most telling results were the orchards needed to be high density—that is, the machine worked most efficiently with row spacings of 10 to 12 feet.
Although it can operate in 14-foot spacings, the efficiency drops due to workers having a difficult time reaching the center of the wider rows.
The machine isn't technically a mechanical harvester. Rather, it is a harvest aid that involves workers standing on platforms.
As the machine navigates down the rows, the workers pick the fruit and drop them in vacuum tubes.
The rig boosts productivity because workers don't need to climb up and down ladders, move ladders or lug heavy picking bags up and down ladders.
The platform part of the machine can be used to help reduce the costs of pruning, hand thinning and training trees.
Once an orchard is planted, growers have to live with the system for up to 30 years.
Matching row spacing to the potential machine or machines that will be used for cultural tasks will help lower costs and boost efficiency, Schwallier wrote.
Therefore, he encourages growers to plant no wider than 12-foot row spacings for best use of platforms and harvest machines in the future.