When the Botden family moved to the Georgian Bay region of Ontario from the Netherlands in 2001, they brought along lots of their own farm equipment. But when that equipment broke, no one knew how to fix it or had access to the parts required.
“So, at that time we decided to start our own maintenance and equipment shop,” Marius Botden said. “We didn’t really want to do that, but we had to. When things broke down, they were down for four weeks. Now, with all our equipment built by ourselves, we stock everything, so we’re only down for 10 minutes.”
He showed off both original and unique imported equipment to attendees of the International Fruit Tree Association’s July tour of Ontario, including large and small recycling sprayers, custom-built platforms, a root pruner, a bin train and a bin hauler that secures the bins with a metal cage lifted into place with hydraulics.
Capable of carrying 140 bins, the system saves time and eliminates safety concerns about traveling with unsecured bins, Botden said. His family runs the Blue Mountain Fruit Co., a vertically integrated business with 450 acres of orchards, storage facilities and a packing house.
The hulking, over-three-rows recycling sprayer caught everyone’s attention first. Bought used in the Netherlands, the unique sprayer keeps chemical bills low — 25 gallons per acre for fungicide programs — and applications speedy, except for the slow turns at the end of the row, each side retracting. They also run two-row recycling sprayers and a Hol Spraying Systems’ airblast sprayer.
The Botdens’ approach to harvest was even more interesting. Workers on the ground don’t use picking bags, instead working in small teams and picking straight into bins on a small train that moves with them through the orchard. Culls destined for juice went into separate tubs.
But the most well-used equipment on the farm: platforms built off of a hydrostatic Kioti tractor chassis. They’ve built seven now, for pruning, thinning, tying and picking.
“We put more hours on them than our tractors,” he said, at about 600 or 700 hours a year. “On the whole farm we have just two picking ladders, and we always have to search for where they are.”
Across the road in a Red Prince orchard, Marius’ son, Gerbe Botden, showed off his favorite equipment: digital calipers for measuring fruitlet development, a clicker for counting fruit and a soil tensiometer.
“That equipment (back at the shop) is useless unless you know how many fruit you’ve got on the trees, how much extension growth you’ve got and what your soil moisture is like,” he said. “It’s these indicators that, in my opinion, let you manage the orchards effectively.”•
—by Kate Prengaman
Red Prince — a natural cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious, discovered in Germany — is the family’s signature variety. They have the exclusive rights to market it in Canada and produce 150,000 cartons a year. It likes to bear on long shoots, so Gerbe Botden says they prefer to grow it on a table trellis system with side wires to hold the base branches.
“Having a club variety allows us to set the price, make sure our quality is consistent and our customers are happy,” Botden said. •