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Growers on the IFTA trip did some serious looking during their two days at Interpoma, the machinery show in Bolzano, Italy, devoted to apples. Here, Pennsylvania grower Lee Spencer measures the width of a platform while Greg Heller watches. Heller bought a European apple harvesting machine, one of the first in the United States, two years ago. (Richard Lehnert/Good Fruit Grower)

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Munckhof representative Vincent Sanders poses with the harvest-assist machine. Its design is being copied by other machine manufacturers, he said. (Richard Lehnert/Good Fruit Grower)

When Greg Heller bought an apple harvesting-assist machine two years ago, the orchardist from Wapwallopen, Pennsylvania, became one of the first in the United States to own a Pluk-O-Trak.

While he was quite innovative in doing that in the United States, he found he’d bought a machine already in wide use around the world.

The machine is manufactured in the Netherlands by Machinefabriek J.M. van den Munckhof (Munckhof Machinery).

Between 4,000 and 5,000 of them have been sold around the world, according to Vincent Sanders, a company representative who manned the Munckhof display at Interpoma, held in Bolzano, Italy, in November. Not only is the machine popular, but its design inspired several other manufacturers whose machines were on display at Interpoma.

ifta_interpoma-map-teaseMunckhof is a family operation started in 1884 in Horst, the Netherlands, and still involves several members of the van den Munckhof family. It currently is enjoying success and growth. The company recently moved to a larger production facility.

Heller, who bought the smaller size unit of two offered by the company, has used it for two seasons and said he loves it.

“I think European equipment in general is sized better for smaller growers,” he said.

The company claims fruit bruising is reduced 20 percent over hand picking into bags. “Once you put the fruit on the machine, it’s safe,” Heller said. “I pick a lot of Golden Delicious with it.”

While Heller was the first in the United States to buy, two others were sold in Nova Scotia, to Andy Parker and Andrew Bishop.

The company has also designed and is selling its air system sprayer, a novel, over-the-row spraying system in which fans on a gantry force air downward into fabric sleeves, which dispense the air evenly across a bank of nozzles that inject liquid into the airstream.

Scott and Marshall VanDeWalle in Alton, New York, purchased two of the sprayers a year ago, and at Interpoma in November, Tom and Alison DeMarree purchased one for their Williamson, New York, farm as well.

The company has a network of dealers across Canada and recently added one in New York (LaGasse Works, Lyons, New York) and one in Massachusetts.

Sanders said the Munckhof company has been a leader over the years, inventing one of the first tower sprayers 60 years ago and the basic Pluk-O-Trak 50 years ago. At first, instead of conveyors with soft padding and fingers to move the fruit, the machine had belts carrying the fruit from pickers to the bin.

Now, the machine runs with a crew of six pickers, four on platforms and two on the ground, who pick and place fruit on conveyors. The fruit moves to a bin filler that gently places it into the bin.

A number of machines were displayed at Interpoma that show innovative ways to allow people to pick apples on platforms and move them into a bin. The basic engineering problem seems to be getting the fruit from the platform, where the pickers are, down to the ground and into the bin.

Some use padded picking boxes that lower from the platform to the bin on cables, with the box opening from the bottom to release the fruit into a bin carried at the lower level. •