The labour shortage in the UK has been well documented and growers are having to leave crops in the ground because there is no labour available to harvest them; this comes at a great cost to growers and is a huge waste of food and investment.
Featherstone Machinery is focusing very strongly on automation, robotics and mechanical alternatives to manual labour and has a range of solutions which help growers harvest and plant the crops with minimal labour and reduce this waste.
Jonathon Featherstone set up his company two years ago after researching different options to help growers automate planting, harvesting and packaging.
One solution is the cabbage harvester which is made by Belgian company Vanhoucke. The first harvester has already arrived in the UK and six more are the way, Jonathon has seen huge interest from the UK growers.
“The harvester lifts the cabbages from the ground including the root with two rotating torpedoes and they are moved up by a two belt soft foam system with cabbage shaped cut outs, then the roots are cut off, the leaves are then removed with soft tumbles and go back onto the field. The special feature of this harvester is that the roots are cut above ground level, which dramatically reduces the risk of contamination which can lead to rot.
“There a few different options on the harvesters, one bin or two - where the cabbages are placed by hand into the bins. Growers like this method as it reduces damage and makes the vegetable completely safe for long-term storage. There are also options for a large elevator which conveys the cabbages straight to the trailers which has a higher output.”
After harvest the cabbages can be brought to the packhouse and further trimming done if required, then put in short or long-term storage.
The big benefit of these harvesters is the saving in labour. “The overall efficiency does depend on how quickly bins can be changed and how efficient the workers are at putting the cabbages in the bin, but generally speaking the largest model can harvest 5-6 acres a day. When this is translated into labour is it between 20-30 people each day. The smallest will do 2.5 acres a day, saving between 8-10 people.”
Return on investment
How long does it take before a grower sees a return on his investment?
According to Jonathon for a large grower using one of the big models it could be as little as one season with ease. For smaller growers using smaller models it can take two seasons, it depends on the usage. The other element that growers like the operational efficiency benefits.
Featherstone Machinery also supplies mechanical herb and baby leaf harvesters from De Pietri Srl. These include harvesters equipped with a bunch harvesting kit.
Featherstone Machinery also supplies TTS automatic transplanters with numerous growers recognizing the benefits of these machines including one of the UK’s largest brassica growers T.H.Clements who now run three of these machines.
Labour is reduced by up to 90%, and there is a rapid return on investment, better consistency and quality of planting and operational efficiency benefits. They have also been supplied to the UK’s largest softwood tree nursery to transplant tree seedlings.
Another exciting development is an automatic block planter alternative for transplanting salads as well as other crops and is due to arrive in the UK soon.
For more information:
Tel: +44 7972780538