Fruit growing kit gets a workout

Increasingly popular demonstrations of heavy machinery brought this fruit show to life, says Roger Chesher.

Burden Bros Agri demonstrated three machines and a trailor working on vines - image: John Deere
Burden Bros Agri demonstrated three machines and a trailor working on vines - image: John Deere

Working demonstrations are becoming an increasingly popular feature of agricultural and horticultural exhibitions and with so many techniques used by the fruit grower, the opportunity to mount a wide variety of demonstrations for this sector is legion.

It was no surprise, therefore, that the working exhibits at this year's Fruit Focus covered a wide spectrum, from vine anchors to tractors. But each exhibitor managed to prove the point that to see a machine or technique in motion opens the mind to wider possibilities than might be apparent by visiting a standard static stand.

Take, for example, the humble tractor. These form the background to many a show and not even Fruit Focus could avoid the obligatory small boy gleefully pressing the horn of a shiny new toy. However, Burden Brothers, the long-established family farming business from Sheppy, in the form of its John Deere dealership, Burden Bros Agri, took the exhibit one stage further by putting machines into action.

Working in confined spaces

Based around the John Deere 3036E 37hp tractor, its demonstration showed three machines and a trailer with fruit boxes working in the tight confines of vine rows. Also on display was the 509GF, part of the new 5 Series range, which includes 80, 90 and 100hp models for fruit, vineyards, high clearance and/or narrow specifications, all available in standard and premium models.

The 3036E is powered by a 37hp highly reliable Yanmar engine with two range hydrostatic transmission giving up to 24kmph speed. This nimble, narrow and agile machine was paired with the new John Deere Gator, the XUV, which manoeuvred easily in the rows despite being loaded with 0.5 tonnes on its bed and towing a further one tonne of fruit boxes on the Ivor Williams trailer.

This all-new Gator has a high strength hydro-formed frame with a smart deluxe ROPS canopy and boasts a Yanma 850, cc engine with tremendous torque, giving a top speed of 50 kmph, although this is reduced to 40 if the EU road homologation kit is fitted. The versatility of this utility machine was evident, together with its impressive towing ability. Somehow John Deere has managed to make this entirely different new four-wheel drive machine still immediately recognisable as a Gator, but for those who wish to buy an original, the HPX is still available.

The benefit of the working demonstration was to witness matched machines working in tight confines and the John Deere duo was complemented by a highly agile pivot steer loader from Weidemann. Being articulated, this was able to work around the other machines with ease, loading and stacking boxes and demonstrating its truly go-anywhere versatility.

This particular model, the 1350CX45, is powered by a four-cylinder, 31hp, two-litre Perkins engine and is particularly economical to run, in terms of fuel economy, tyre wear and maintenance.

Concept engineering at work

Variety and contrast were certainly the order of the day in the working exhibits as the demonstration moved from highly evolved and sophisticated machines to a more straightforward but no less interesting prototype.

Billed as a mini-rig strawberry harvester, the prototype Tektu T200 is an electrically-powered vehicle that soon displayed its potential as a useful machine in a host of settings where materials are to be carried or harvested in a fume-free silent environment such as tunnels.

Tektu is the brand name of Tech2reality, a truly innovative group of Stratford-on-Avon-based concept engineers who have grown from the demise of British Leyland to provide original products to fulfil, from first principles, the design needs of farmers and growers, or indeed any other industry. Tektu was shown at Fruit Focus by Pro Tech Marketing of Worcestershire, which currently markets the electric four-wheel drive/four-wheel steer Tektu T100 strawberry harvester, winner of the Technical Innovation category of the Horticulture Week Grower of the Year Awards 2010.

The T200, a smaller machine, consists of a sturdy steel box section frame topped by an aluminium chequer plate platform with a load capacity of one tonne. The prototype in action was set up for picking strawberries in a five-row polytunnel.

The T200 is powered by two 24-volt electric motors, one for each of the two 20-inch diameter driving wheels. Four gel deep discharge 12 volt batteries are fitted.

Controls are very straightforward - forward and reverse, left and right - but by the time the operator had stepped up on top of the platform, moving along with the handheld controller connected by flexible cable, the true potential of this seemingly simple platform began to emerge.

Imagine performing maintenance on the roof of the tunnel. One person, in complete control, moving silently and without fumes with pinpoint accuracy thanks to skid steer, capable of turning in its own length, wheels tracking exactly in forwards or reverse, even on inclines. The mini rig can also be transported on a car trailer.

It is clear that the true potential of this rig is yet to be realised. So far it is used for strawberry and asparagus work but interest in other fields and uses - such as transplanting - are starting to emerge.

Hammering home the point

If the Tektu was merely located on a static stand, billed as it was as a strawberry harvester, those not in the business of strawberries could well pass it by without seeing potential.

By the same token, the Platipus anchoring system was ostensibly billed as a fastening point for trellis or protection systems in vineyards and fruit. By the time the practical demonstration of the system was complete, the sizeable and fascinated crowd was beginning to appreciate a host of potential applications for anchoring virtually anything securely and reliably to the ground.

The demonstration was assisted by James Dodson of Vineworks, which specialises in trellis installation and vineyard management. However, it soon became clear that while the average individual would not, perhaps, be able to match Dodson's phenomenal work rate of 400 to 500 anchors a day, virtually anyone could install a Platipus with simple hand tools.

The Platipus itself is a streamlined, chisel-shaped aluminium anchor attached to a wire tendon with an eye at the end. A drive rod was fitted to the end of the anchor, which was then driven in this case by a lightweight percussive breaker, into the extremely hard earth of the demonstration arena to the required depth.

Next the rod was removed using a pair of simple manual rod removers. Finally the anchor was loaded into its final position by applying a load to (pulling) the wire tendon. This locked the anchor by causing it to rotate by up to 90 degrees.

The demonstrators were keen to point out that at this stage the whole installation could be tested if required by applying a stressing jack and load gauge to prove the load on the anchor. Loads of three tonnes are regularly applied, even if installed by hand into chalk.

Just as a picture speaks a thousand words, there is no doubt that seeing exhibits in action adds a valuable new dimension to the exhibition. Hopefully this will be a regular feature of Fruit Focus for years to come.

Burden Bros Agri 01795 843250
Pro Tech Marketing 01905 451601
Platipus Anchors 01739 762300
Vineworks 07740 986617

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