In addition to saving money in labor costs by using platforms in a Selah, Washington, orchard, Dave Jacques says they have happier workers.
"The workers prefer to be standing and pruning rather than carrying around ladders all day," said Jacques, orchard manager at Larsen Fruit Company.
The platform workers, four on the platform and one driver, operate as a team, working on piece rate, he explained. By including the tractor driver on the piece-rate team, the driver pays closer attention to tree conditions to keep his crew moving along quickly.
With the labor savings, they can still provide them with a decent wage, Jacques said, adding that under piece rate, workers can earn as high as an equivalent $9.50 to $10 per hour. It’s a win-win situation for the employer and the workers. We can get the blocks done faster for less money."
Larsen Fruit is using five orchard platforms this season-one prototype that they made, and four others manufactured by Northstar Attachments, LLC, which is owned by Rankin Equipment Company in Yakima, Washington.
Tex Reid, Gilbert Orchards, Yakima, noted that their workers also prefer to work on the platforms. They are currently using two platforms, with another ordered.
He believes that the crews work harder on the platforms and don’t get bored because "their hands and legs are moving all the time."
Lunches and supplies are stored in a bin attached to the end of the platform, allowing them easy access to food and water during breaks. "It’s cool. They have their own little contained system on the platform and have a picnic together during lunch," Reid explained.
He has even observed platform teams competing with each other, pitting women against men, to see who can finish tree-training tasks first.
The platforms have worked "quite successfully" at Gilbert Orchards, he added.
While Reid is aware of plans to make self-propelled platform units to eliminate need for a driver, he believes that the current design is cost-effective and inexpensive.
"Sometimes, low-tech or medium technology is better than the extreme," he concluded.