Good Point - Tougas
Platforms Get Respect
Left: The adjustable height of the platform makes it versatile enough to work both in short apple plantings and taller perpendicular-V peach plantings. Right: Empty bins are picked up with the front forks and rolled along the deck for picking. Full bins o
"Respect apical dominance. Above all, learn to respect apical dominance." This was the message from Pennsylvania grower Mark Rice about his plantings of perpendicular-V peaches during the annual conference of the International Fruit Tree Association in Hershey, Pennsylvania, two years ago. Eastern growers have struggled to control height on perpendicular-V peach plantings due to the strong natural growth habit of peach trees. Tree heights approaching 15 feet or more (4.6 meters or higher) require the use of ladders for pruning, thinning, and harvesting, and, consequently, push labor costs up through the roof.
For our small family farm in Massachusetts, family members provide much of the labor. In an effort to reduce our own work and labor costs for the farm, we began looking for an orchard platform to use in both our perpendicular-V peach orchard as well as in our tall spindle and Tatura-trellised apples. During the 2004 IFTA study tour of the apple-growing region in Italy, we visited the Interpoma tradeshow in Bolzano, Italy, and the Fruchtwelt show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Between the two shows, more than ten orchard platform manufacturers were on display, each with several different models in production.
Upon returning home, we contacted several manufacturers about exporting a platform to the United States. We had the best luck with the Italian manufacturer N. Blosi who had the only English brochure. Five months after we contacted the manufacturer, our Zip 25 orchard platform was delivered to the farm, in April 2007.
An onboard compressor and scissor lift make light work out of pruning the tops of apple and peach trees. Adjusting from 4 feet (1.2 m) at the lowest setting and to 7.6 feet (2.3 m) at the highest, the platform is versatile enough to work both shorter apple plantings and taller perpendicular-V peach plantings. The variable width, from 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 m) allows the platform to fit in row spacings from 10 to 16 feet (3.0 to 4.9 m) wide. In spindle-type orchards, a row spacing of 10 to 12 feet (3.0 to 3.7 m) is most efficient so that platform operators can reach the trunk of the trees for picking and tree training. Row spacing in V-shaped plantings, such as apple Tatura trellis and V peaches, are most efficient between 14 and 16 feet (4.3 and 4.9 m).
The Zip 25 can be used safely on slopes up to 20 degrees from horizontal. A switch on the control panel operates hydraulic lateral leveling of the platform in both directions up to 20 degrees.
The work deck can accommodate up to four workers for pruning and training and two comfortably for picking with a bin. The bin-handling system, consisting of bin forks on the front and rear along with rollers across the length of the work deck, allows for peach and apple harvest from the platform. Empty bins are picked up with the front forks then rolled along the deck for picking. Full bins are then rolled onto the rear forks and dropped off. Instead of carrying picking baskets on our backs, we built simple shelves to hold the baskets in order to reduce back strain. The platform eliminated the time it takes to climb a ladder, descend the ladder, and walk to the bin to unload apples because the bin is always next to the pickers on the work deck.
The two-speed transmission allows us to move the machine across the farm quickly. The auto-steer device allows the operators of the platform to work without wasting time steering. When engaged, the front wheels steer slightly to the right. As the steering sensor contacts a tree, the front wheels steer sharply to the left briefly and then return to the right, guiding the machine down the row. Four-wheel steering and
four-wheel drive are also equipped on the platform.
The Zip 25 has greatly reduced our reliance on ladders in the orchard. We sell the majority of our crop pick-your own and the rest through our small farm stand. We harvest the tree tops with the platform so that our customers do not have to climb ladders, relieving some liability. Last year, we harvested apples and peaches from the platform. Work is more enjoyable in the orchard now without having to lug around a heavy wood or aluminum orchard ladder. Jobs that were neglected for years, such as pruning and training the tops of trees, are now completed. For more information about our orchard platform, please visit www.tougasfarm.com/links.html.
Andr Tougas is part of the Tougas Family Farm, a family-owned and operated farm located only 35 miles from Boston. In addition to peaches and apples, they produce strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and pumpkins, along with cherries and plums. All the fruit is sold on the farm. In 1986, the farm was preserved under the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program run by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Andr graduated from Cornell University in pomology and farm finance & business management. He is active in the Mid-Atlantic Young Farmers group, the International Fruit Tree Association, and serves as president of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association, as well as on the State USDA-NRS Farmers Advisory Committee and the county USDA-FSA committee.