Friday, 12 March 2021 10:16

Picking platforms help lift apple harvest rates

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
T&G Global is turning to automation to manage labour shortages. T&G Global is turning to automation to manage labour shortages.

Apple grower and exporter T&G Global is turning to automation to ease labour shortage woes during the harvesting season.

The company has taken delivery of eight new state-of-the-art automated picking platforms as part of its commitment to provide a safe and productive workplace.

With a seasonal labour shortage and a harvest that is off to a quick start due to the early ripening of apples, the new Italian-made Nblosi Quad Lift Platforms are filling a crucial harvest capacity gap across T&G’s 900 hectares of Hawke’s Bay orchards.

“Picking apples is labour-intensive work, and at times it’s physically demanding, requiring strength and endurance. These platforms enable fast, efficient and safe picking of apples - doubling the volume of apples which can be picked each day,” says Craig Betty, T&G’s head of operations.

With four team members on a platform at one time, they’re able to safely pick apples, place them on a conveyer belt which is attached to the platform, which then automatically fills the bins at the back.

Betty says this enables less fit or new workers to harvest around 6 bins per day. With traditional techniques using ladders, they would harvest around two to three bins per day.

In the Hawke’s Bay, a warm and sunny growing season has resulted in an early ripening of the crop and T&G is racing to get apples picked and packed in time.

“It is vital apples are picked within a two-week window of their optimum maturity, because if you miss this window the quality and storability of the apples is significantly compromised,’ says Betty.

“Given the summer we’ve had, our apples have matured a week earlier this season, resulting in large volumes of Royal Gala to pick over the past fortnight and now our premium JAZZ apples are ready to be picked, a week earlier than usual.

“As a result of our intensive Freshworx seasonal workforce recruitment campaign, we had great uptake from students over the summer holidays to help with thinning and orchard work, however with school and Universities now back we’re short of workers.

“We’re working very closely with the Ministry of Social Development and partnering with Driver CPC (forklift cadetship training), as well as stepping up our recruitment activities in the hope we hire and train enough workers to harvest apples for the domestic and export markets. The addition of these new picking platforms will greatly support our seasonal team members in being able to quickly pick apples as they mature.”

T&G began using automated picking platforms three years ago and this new order of automated platforms brings its total to 11 in the Hawke’s Bay. They move down the row safely lifting workers approximately 2.5 metres high to support tree training, thinning, pruning and picking. Each platform is fitted with a bin carrying module, enabling it to load and unload full bins of apples within the row of trees.

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