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The technology, which carries a $155,000 price tag, may be good news for an industry beleaguered by labour shortages and spiralling costs made more acute by the ongoing fallout from Covid-19 and consequent restrictions on the number of recognised seasonal employer (RSE) workers allowed into New Zealand.
The machine was in Central Otago at the 21ha Hollandia Orchard in Earnscleugh, near Alexandra, this last week on a trial basis and after test runs it was unveiled to orchardists and orchard managers on Wednesday.
Hollandia Orchard manager Murray Booth said he was sold on the machine.
He told 10 or so other orchard representatives who gathered to watch the machine in action he was already seeing where savings could be made in terms of productivity and efficiency, as well as improvements in the quality of apples harvested.
New Zealand distributor Galaxy Group sales team member Gerry Blampied said the machines first arrived in New Zealand for the 2019 harvest and three harvests in, there were 48 in operation nationwide.
The technology was not new — simply relatively new to New Zealand. Its Italian manufacturer Frumaco Europe had refined and perfected it over about 40 years, he said.
The machines already had attracted ringing endorsements from WorkSafe.
"WorkSafe are all for it — it gets rid of ladders and it does away with picking bags."
Both were career hazards for fruit pickers and by eliminating them it made the work more attractive for seasonal labour of all ages.
"Essentially a lot of the hard labour aspect of the job is removed," he said.
Six pickers and one platform operator was the optimal team and workers simply picked from adjustable platforms and placed the fruit on conveyor belts to go to bins that were swapped over when when full by the machine and placed behind it as it travelled down each row of trees.
The platform was easily converted for harvesting, pruning, tree training and thinning, Mr Blampied said.