With input costs continuing to soar, labour difficult to source and top fruit prices under pressure, efficiency and cost-saving are increasingly important when sourcing machinery for the orchard or vineyard.

That theme was well in evidence at fruit and vineyard specialist N P Seymour’s two machinery demonstration days held at Amsbury farm, Hunton, near Maidstone, towards the end of July.

At both the orchard day and the vineyard event the following day, the Cranbrook, Kent-based team was keen to highlight cost-saving equipment that could, in many cases, carry out more than one task.

More than 100 enthusiastic visitors attended the two events, held by kind permission of grower Clive Baxter, who allowed the demonstration team to put the machines through their paces on his trees and vines.

The impressive response from growers across the South East reflected the fact that this was very much a ‘demonstration day’ as opposed to the more usual open day event at which machinery is on display but rarely seen in action.

Sales and marketing director Claire Seymour explained that customers increasingly wanted to see machinery working, particularly given the complexities of modern equipment and the difficulty of explaining exactly how a new machine did what the brochure said it did.

“Fifty years ago, before the internet, farmers would go to a show, talk to dealers, do as much research as they could and then make their purchasing decision,” she explained. “These days they can sit in their tractor cab during a break and use their smartphone to look at videos of anything they are interested in. They are looking for something extra when they come to a show – and seeing the machine in action is that extra something.

“Even at an event like the National Fruit Show these days it’s not enough just to have a new machine on your stand. You have to have a video of it being put through its paces. We decided to go one step further and invite growers to see a range of new equipment put to work on a real farm. We are delighted that so many people took advantage of that opportunity and made it a really worthwhile two days.”

The orchard machinery day highlighted the latest Gen3 Fendt tractors alongside mechanical weeding solutions from Clemens, Braun and Perfect, Fruit-Tec’s REDpulse Duo, trimmers from BMV, sprayers from OCLL, weather stations from Pessl iMetos and the Munckhof Pluk-O-Trak picking platform.

The focus shifted to the vineyard the following day, with demonstrators showing off Braun and Clemens under-vine weeding solutions, defoliators and trimmers from ERO, sprayers from Berthoud and OCLL, mowers from Braun, weather stations from Pessl iMetos and handheld tools from Felco and ARS.

Fruit-Tec’s REDpulse Duo is a pneumatic orchard defoliator and a good example of the kind of high-tech kit that needs to be demonstrated rather than talked about. “It works by emitting a high-frequency pulsating air stream to remove leaves from the middle to lower half of the tree, allowing more light to get through and producing a redder apple,” Claire said. “It’s pioneering technology that isn’t easy to explain – but growers who see it in action can immediately see its value.”

Munckhof’s Pluk-O-Trak self-propelled harvester, introduced a remarkable 54 years ago, was just one of the multiple-use pieces of equipment on display at the orchard demonstration day. 

The Pluk-O-Trak is renowned for significantly reducing the amount of labour required to harvest top fruit and for its gentle handling of the produce. Pickers stand on the platform or walk alongside the machine, placing the fruit onto one of four picking belts.

An onboard computer system automatically records key harvest data that allows growers to track and trace fruit from the tree to the cold store, while the trailer that follows the harvester can tow up to 16 bins, doing away with the need to pre-position them. Full bins are lowered gently to the ground while a new one is loaded on to the harvester’s turntable, which rotates as fruit is fed in via the belts.

Critically, the harvester’s versatile platform arrangement means it can be used in all seasons, not just during harvest. The platforms can be quickly re-configured to support pruning, hand-thinning, trellis maintenance and netting installation, with some growers noting savings of up to 35% on ancillary costs by using the Pluk-O-Trak.

Also designed with efficiency in mind, whether tackling a vineyard or an orchard, the Braun Alpha mower adapts to a variety of row widths and can tackle a range of slopes. A sensor switch allows the variable width mower to adjust continuously to its surroundings, while the cutting height is also continuously variable.

Ideal for mowing grassed vineyards and orchards and mulching vine and orchard prunings, the Alpha has brackets that allow accessories such as the Braun Vine Trunk Cleaner to be mounted. “It means the grower can mow, pulverise prunings, tackle weed growth and remove buds from the trunks all in one pass,” pointed out Claire.

Running additional equipment puts demands on the oil flow from the tractor providing the motive power, which is why many manufacturers design their equipment first and foremost with a Fendt in mind.

Impressive oil flow is just one of the benefits of the latest Gen3 Fendt tractors that attracted considerable attention at the demonstration days.

With a fuel-efficient 3.3 litre turbo-charged engine, the fruit and vine (F/V) models range from 70 to 110hp, with a vario transmission that allows for a truly flat floor within a comfortable, driver-friendly cab. Built in Germany in the same factory as its bigger brothers, the Fendt offers the usual impressive build quality.

The ease of fitting attachments to a Fendt is another plus factor, with most specialist equipment manufacturers designing their equipment to fit the marque without costly adaptation.

 Decent hydraulic capacity is essential for growers looking at high-tech equipment such as ERO’s impressive new VITIpulse Combi defoliator, which needs a throughput of 80 litres per minute.

As its name suggests, the Combi brings the ‘suck and pluck’ roller defoliation method and the pneumatic air blast method together into one machine, allowing the grower to choose the method that best suits the time of year or the result they are seeking to achieve.

“Used together, more targeted results can be achieved as the roller removes the external leaves, allowing the air blast to penetrate through to the inner part of the canopy,” explained Claire. “But at times of year when the air blast system can’t be used because it might damage the fruit, the operator can just use the rollers.”

Another multi-purpose machine that allows users to spread the cost by performing more than one task is BMV’s FL800 mechanical pruner and orchard trimmer. Designed with economical orchard management in mind, its winter-focused saw blades can be replaced by knives for orchard trimming and cutting green wood in the summer.

The flexibility of the P and PC models, which feature different numbers of blades in a variety of combinations, means the FL800 can be used for cutting hedges and windbreaks up to 4.5 metres around the orchard as well as topping trees in the autumn.

Amongst a range of vineyard and orchard sprayers on display, Carrarospray’s OCLL Q Wector 3 trailed model turned heads at the demonstration days because of its ingenious layout that places the air intake fan in front of the anti-drift tower to avoid debris or spray being sucked into the machine.

Also creating considerable interest was the same manufacturer’s NPA mounted sprayer, said by Claire to be the most popular model amongst N P Seymour’s customers. The NPA has eight flexible, directional spray heads and allows growers to choose from 400, 500 or 600 litre tank models. It is ideal for top fruit orchards and vineyards as well as other fruits, including raspberries.

Again with multi-tasking in mind, the demonstration days featured the Clemens range of cultivation equipment which offers a choice of frames plus a wide range of implements that enable growers to tackle a number of jobs in just one pass. The front- or rear-mounted SB Compact frame is ideal for narrow alleys, while the SB2 is designed to accommodate undervine care systems such as the Radius SL, Radius SL Plus and Multiclean.

The Multiclean is popular with growers because of its ability to reduce the cost of bud rubbing while also helping take weeds back to ground level, without interfering with soil structure, by acting like a strimmer. For those less concerned with soil disturbance, the Braun Rollhacke finger weeder was also being demonstrated.

Growers were also able to see demonstrations of the Perfect Van Wamel TerraRanger, the first mechanical weeder to offer effective control in the orchard at high driving speeds, and the impressive ERO Elite vine trimmer.

On display but not put through its paces because of limited headland space at the demonstration site was the Berthoud Win’ Air sprayer.

Photos: ©Martin Apps, Countrywide Photographic

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