T&G Global has helped its New Zealand apple pickers reach new heights this season with the addition of eight state-of-the-art automated picking platforms.
With the industry grappling with labour shortages and the harvest of early-season apples underway, the company has employed the Italian-made N Blosi quad lift platforms to increase efficiency.
Craig Betty, T&G’s head of operations, said the machines were filling a crucial harvest capacity gap across the company’s 900ha of Hawke’s Bay orchards.
“Picking apples is labour-intensive work, and at times it’s physically demanding, requiring strength and endurance. These platforms enable fast, efficient and safe picking of apples – doubling the volume of apples which can be picked each day,” said Betty.
“With four team members on a platform at one time, they’re able to safely pick apples, place them on a conveyer belt which is attached to the platform, which then automatically fills the bins at the back.
“This enables our less fit or new workers to harvest around six bins per day. Whereas traditional techniques using ladders, they would harvest around two to three bins per day.”
In the Hawke’s Bay, a warm and sunny growing season has resulted in an early ripening of the crop and T&G is racing to get apples picked and packed in time.
“It is vital apples are picked within a two-week window of their optimum maturity, because if you miss this window the quality and storability of the apples is significantly compromised.
“Given the summer we’ve had, our apples have matured a week earlier this season, resulting in large volumes of Royal Gala to pick over the past fortnight and now our premium Jazz apples are ready to be picked, a week earlier than usual.
“As a result of our intensive Freshworx seasonal workforce recruitment campaign, we had great uptake from students over the summer holidays to help with thinning and orchard work, however with school and universities now back we’re short of workers.”
T&G began using automated picking platforms three years ago and this new order of automated platforms brings its total to 11 in the Hawke’s Bay.
They move down the row safely lifting workers approximately 2.5 metres high to support tree training, thinning, pruning and picking.
Each platform is fitted with a bin carrying module, enabling it to load and unload full bins of apples within the row of trees.