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Ditzler uses five machines to harvest sweet dark cherries for processing into yogurts and ice creams. Cherries are harvested day and night.

Ditzler uses five machines to harvest sweet dark cherries for processing into yogurts and ice creams. Cherries are harvested day and night.

A Swiss company that produces frozen fruits for yogurts and ice creams is growing some of its cherries in Chile.

Arturo Garcia, general manager of an orchard at Morza, Chile, owned by Ditzler, said cherries are an important part of the company’s business, but production in Switzerland is small-scale and expensive, so it looked to expand elsewhere.

The 100-hectare (250-acre) orchard in Chile was established between 1992 and 2003. The main variety is a sweet, black, processing cherry from Germany called Dollensepler, with Basler Langstiele, Weber sämling, Regina, Bing, and Stella as pollinizers. Dollensepler is a small cherry (17-22 mm) with sugar ­levels usually above 22° Brix.

The earliest blocks were planted on Colt, F12/1 and Maxima 14 rootstocks, but for the last 40 hectares (100 acres) planted, Garcia used a rootstock he developed himself from trees in his orchard. The unnamed rootstock is ­multiplied through in vitro propagation.

Three shifts

Garcia has only a ten-day window to harvest the 100 hectares of processing cherries at the right maturity. He uses five Czech-made picking machines, which can operate day and night. Together, they can harvest 100 tons per day in three shifts.

The machines shake the trees to loosen the cherries, which fall onto a catching surface and are carried along a belt into a box. It takes six people to operate each machine and tractor and additional workers to move the empty and filled boxes. The machines can harvest 80 trees per hour, removing 95 percent of the fruit. The remaining cherries must be harvested by hand.

Garcia estimates that the five machines replaced 950 people. He employs a total crew of 100 to machine harvest the Dollenseplers, but it takes 200 people to hand-pick the pollinizers, which make up 20 percent of the orchard. The cost of harvesting the processed cherries works out at 12 U.S. cents per kilo (5.5 cents per pound) compared with 50 cents per kilo (23 cents per pound) for the hand-picked fruit.

The processed cherries are harvested into 15-kilo (33-pound) plastic boxes and trucked to Santiago to be pitted and frozen before being shipped to Switzerland.