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Left: This sprayer has a tank large enough to cover 50 acres, and has a mower. Right: This bin transporter loads and unloads bins automatically.

Left: This sprayer has a tank large enough to cover 50 acres, and has a mower. Right: This bin transporter loads and unloads bins automatically.

Over-the-row sprayers are not a new concept for the Griesbach family, who farm near Dresden, Germany. They’ve been using them for more than 20 years. Working with big machinery is their specialty, Jan Griesbach told members of the International Fruit Tree Association when they visited the orchard during a study tour this winter.

Jan, his brother Peter, and his father Dr. Klaus Griesbach, have 280 hectares (almost 700 acres) of apples, sour cherries, sweet cherries, plums, and pears. They use big ­equipment for planting, spraying, and transporting bins. They also have a machine for sweeping prunings.

The orchard is on a plateau 300 meters (1,000 feet) above see level. Annual rainfall averages 680 mm (27 inches), and the diseases black spot and mildew are among their production challenges. They spray between 19 and 25 times per ­season, depending on the weather.

In the early 1980s, the family decided they needed a new type of sprayer to cover ­multiple rows and improve their efficiency. Jan said the family goes to a local "garage" that can develop unique equipment to meet their ­requirements.

The latest plantings have trees 0.8 to 1.2 meters (2.6 to 4 feet) apart, with 2.7 meters (9 feet) between rows, and their 220-horsepower sprayer can cover four rows at a time while also mowing the cover crop. It has a clearance of 2.8 meters (9.25 feet) over the trees.

The sprayer has a tank large enough to cover 20 hectares (50 acres), at a rate of 200 Imperial gallons (240 U.S. gallons) of water per acre. Its top driving speed is 20 kilometers per hour (12.5 mph) when not spraying and 8 to 10 kilometers per hour (5 to 6 mph) while spraying. It can cover 80 hectares (200 acres) per day if just used for spraying, or 65 to 70 hectares (160 to 175 acres) when mowing.

The Griesbachs have several of these sprayers that they’ve developed over the past two decades. The newest one was manufactured two years ago. Several neighboring orchardists also use over-the-row sprayers. Jan estimated that a new machine of this kind would cost 250,000 euros (U.S.$315,000) today.

Jan said a grower would normally need one tractor, sprayer, and worker for each 25 hectares (60 acres) of orchard, but one over-the-row sprayer and operator can both spray and mow up to 80 hectares (200 acres).

Bin transporter

The Griesbachs also have two machines for transporting bins. During harvest, they move a total of 1,800 bins in and out of the orchard, at a rate of 500 per day. Their bin transporters can carry 10 or 18 bins at a time.

They do not put bins in the rows at harvest, but place them in the drive rows, which are spaced 50 meters (165 feet) apart. Pickers walk to and from the drive rows to deposit the fruit in the bins. Jan pointed out that the furthest they have to walk to the nearest drive row is 25 meters (82.5 feet).

Their bins are wooden, and Jan said the transporters they have would not work with plastic bins.

Though evidently passionate about new equipment, Jan said the family is not expecting to adopt mechanical harvesting any time soon. "We’ve had a look at it, but it won’t work in the next few years in apples," he said.

Workers in the Griesbach orchard use extended pneumatic pruners for pruning, and short stepladders for picking. Jan said it’s difficult to get workers, partly because of regulations in Germany that require them to have a work permit and a visa, and partly because the wages are not high. Most of the pickers come from Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania and earn 9 to 14 euros (U.S.$12 to 18) per 360-kilo (800 pound) bin. The employer provides housing, for which the workers pay a small amount. Harvest costs work out at 4 euro cents per kilo (2.4 U.S. cents per pound).

Jan said the average yield in the orchard is 40 tons per hectare, and pre-harvest production costs are around 3,000 euros per hectare (U.S.$1,600 per acre), of which 800 euros (U.S.$420 per acre) are for pesticides.