Pick of the crop for an easier apple harvest
This is Somerset.
It's big, blue and highly efficient. And for West Country
cidermakers it spells the end of the age-old chore of picking
apples by hand.
The first production model of a new
apple harvester conceived by master cider maker John Thatcher has
gone into service.
The harvester has been built by SFM Technology, based in
Martock, near Yeovil, a company experienced in producing bespoke
agriculture machinery - as well as working with advanced
engineering companies such as GKN Aerospace and AgustaWestland.
And this autumn it will be helping to slash harvesting times in
the Thatcher orchards in and around their company's base in
Sandford, near Weston-super-Mare.
Harvesting cider fruit has always been a labour-intensive
process, usually involving picking apples from the cider floor
where they have fallen.
But the new machine - which can also be adapted for spraying and
trimming the tress - is designed to gently shake the apples off the
The fruit then falls into the stainless steel internal tunnel,
on to a conveyor and straight into a trailer.
Mr Thatcher said: "From there, they are taken straight to our
mill, so at no time do the apples touch the ground - and handling
is kept to a minimum.
"By harvesting ten days before the optimum pick date, on the pick
date, as well as ten days after, we are catching all the fruit as
it is ready.
"The days of picking apples by hand commercially are over. Shake
and catch is the way forward. We tried using a commercially
available machine some years ago, but it didn't do the job in the
way we wanted, so that inspired us to come
up with our own design."
Pomologist Liz Copas said: "This is an impressive machine and a
very timely and interesting project. By introducing this machine,
John Thatcher is truly progressing the cider industry."
And specialist grower John Worle, said: "This project has been
seen through by John Thatcher and he's done it all with a smile on
his face. The cider industry hasn't seen such development in
harvesting since the 1970s."