An orchard tractor driving between two rows of apple trees in the daytime.

Orchard equipment has evolved a lot over the past hundred years from the Baby Caterpillar “18” crawler of 1914 to the robot harvesters being developed today. As always, each piece of equipment has been developed to solve a specific problem or to suit a specific orchard setup. Here are eight pieces of orchard equipment that can transform your growing operation.

Bed Formers

The bed former makes the task of creating a new orchard much easier and ensures well-draining soil for your trees. This orchard tractor creates rows in the field at a distance that’s ideal for citrus, apples, stone fruits, and nut trees. It can also add improvements such as sand and gravel and direct fertilizer straight to the roots of the plants. 

Tree Planter

Once your beds are ready for planting, a piece of orchard equipment known as a tree planter can automate the planting process. This novel invention was created to fill labor shortages after the second world war and plants up to 300-500 trees per hour. If you have a large acreage to plant in a short amount of time, this machine can make it possible.

Weed Spray Boom

Sprays are part of orchard life — whether you’re an organic or conventional grower. The weed spray boom allows you to spray over a large area quickly without having to break your back in the process. Depending on your orchard equipment needs, you might prefer a double weed spray boom to spray two rows at once, or a shielded boom to spray only certain areas on the ground and minimize drift and damage to pollinators. This kind of orchard tractor is based on the self-propelled sprayers invented by Ray Hagie in 1947.

Pruning Towers

A pruning tower is just what it sounds like: a crane-like apparatus that lifts workers safely to prune at the top of the trees. This piece of orchard equipment is essential for safe pruning practices where a ladder would have normally been used. Pruning towers became popular in the 1970s to improve safety for orchard personnel and have now become a standard piece of orchard equipment.

Toppers, Hedgers, and Skirters

Depending on the design of your orchard, you might be able to get away with removing the need to hand-prune entirely. Fruiting wall designs, in particular, are planted to maximize output while minimizing the need for manual labor. The hedger/topper/skirter was designed to prune all kinds of fruit trees automatically — removing the need for laborious pruning and creating a more uniform appearance and yield.

Shakers

If you own a walnut, almond, or pistachio farm, you probably use a purpose-built shaker to harvest the nuts quickly and easily. Nut shakers mechanically shake the tree, causing the nuts to fall into a collector or onto the ground where they can be collected on tarps or moved into the line of a harvester using either a sweeper or a blower. 

An interesting study from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture found that sweepers damage the soil much less than blowers, particularly if the orchard floor is covered with a short layer of grass. Orchard equipment continually evolves, so it’s essential to stay up-to-date with the latest orchard tractor designs.

Harvesters

Probably the most exciting orchard tractor available today is the harvester. This piece of orchard equipment removes the need for manual harvesting by picking and collecting the fruit automatically. Usually, a fruit or nut harvester shakes the tree manually or with a blast of high-pressure water or air and collects the fruits or nuts in a collection bin. 

Today, fruits harvested using a shaker and collector go to the processed food market because they often become bruised or damaged in the process. However, nuts harvested by shaking are fine for direct sale to consumers. Some cutting-edge machines under development offer artificial intelligence to carefully “hand-pick” fruit for the fresh fruit market. Perhaps we will see more of these machines appear in orchards during the coming decades.

Forklifts

Boxes of apples on a tractor-pulled bin cart in the daytime.

The final piece of orchard equipment that is particularly essential for orchard operations is an all-terrain forklift. Forklifts are used to lift heavy loads like boxes of harvested nuts and fruit if you’re not using a harvester that will transport the harvested produce for you. Forklifts are also used for lifting in the packinghouse and should be matched to the size of your rows (both indoor and/or outdoor) for easy maneuvering.

Make Your Life Easier with Fruit Growers Supply

Established in 1907, Fruit Growers Supply Company specializes in everything that fruit growers need for a productive and healthy harvest. In addition to crop-specific irrigation systems and fruit-specific corrugated boxes, we also offer a wide range of equipment and sprays for fruit-growing operations. 

If you’re just starting out or are looking to optimize your orchard equipment, give us a call or visit us in one of our full-service retail stores. We’ve got it all, we do it all, and we have the experience to help you succeed.

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