The Bin Bandit hauls bins during the harvest season, and a platform sits on it for use in thinning, pruning, and tree training.
Todd Furber jumped on an idea when he saw a prototype fruit harvester at a field day in Pennsylvania, and, adding some ingenuity, he turned it into an efficient mechanical thinner for the peaches he grows for processing.
The rotating, vibrating, spiked-drum harvester was developed by Dr. Donald Peterson, now retired, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia. The harvester is now being used to harvest citrus fruit and is being tested on tart cherries.
Furber’s adaptation works on green fruit as a first pass in thinning peaches, to be followed by workers standing on a platform pulled by a tractor and wielding plastic bats. The machine reduces the cost of hand thinning, Furber said.
Furber and his brother Ted operate Cherry Lawn Farms, Sodus, New York, with their father, Ron. They grow more than 300 acres of fruit, with fresh-market apples their major crop and about 50 acres of peaches for processing. They grow clingstone varieties—Babygold 5, Virgil, Venture, and Catherina—and have to truck them from their farm in western New York to Peterson Farms in Michigan, since the CanGro cannery in Ontario closed two years ago.
The peach trees are young and healthy, growing either on triple leader or perpendicular V system. They are 11 feet tall and are spaced 6 or 8 feet apart with 18-foot alleys.
It is very important to get large peaches, Todd said. The price jumps 4 cents a pound going from 2.5 inches to 2.75 inches (18 versus 22 cents), so they are thinned and irrigated. With yields of 12 to 15 tons per acre, the dollar advantage is considerable. While the market was questionable after CanGro quit processing, the peaches provide off-season work, keeping his crew employed. So, for now, he’s sticking with the peaches.
Unlike the Darwin string thinner that knocks off small peaches or blossoms, the drum thinner’s nylon rods penetrate into the canopy and take off more of those less desirable fruit on the inner canopy and less from the outside. The drum rotates and rolls, but is not powered. A cam shaft causes oscillation that shakes the green fruit off when they are the size of a quarter or half-dollar.
Todd has found the fruit is larger on the triple-stem trees and said, if he plants more peaches, he’ll move to a quad V system with four upright scaffolds instead of two or three. It will take fewer trees to plant an acre and should be equally well adapted to the drum thinner. That thinner does not work with the vase-style, open-center peach tree shape.
The upright trees are also pruned differently. “Peaches grow on one-year wood,” Todd said. “We prune to leave small branches, cutting back to a stub and letting it grow back. We can grow a new branch to replace one if it dies, something you can’t do with an open-vase–style tree. Trees last longer. We want ours to last 20 years or more.”
The Furbers also developed a platform that works well with the upright peach tree style, and use it in their tall spindle apples as well for pruning, thinning, and installing trellis wire. Mounted on a bin trailer, it is steered by one worker on the platform. Todd would really like a machine that is self-guided.