Anybody who has ever bent down to pick up one macadamia nut after the other has surely thought, ‘there must be a better way’. But large machines can be costly and economies of scale are necessary to make the expense feasible. This drove Macridge to create simpler, more economic macadamia nut harvesters.
Walking up and down the lanes between macadamia trees, pushing what looks like a lawn mower, is Jan Martin, plant engineer at Macridge Processing Solutions (MPS). He is demonstrating the simplicity and effectiveness of their custom built macadamia nut harvester, which picks up nuts off the orchard floor as it is pushed along, and deposits them into a lug box clipped to the front of the machine.
“With this harvester I can fill a lug box in four minutes flat!” he smiles. “In essence, that means I need only one person to do the job of three people who were previously picking up nuts by hand. The harvest is also completed that much faster, leaving less opportunity for theft as nuts aren’t left lying around for weeks.”
The right design
Realising the need for a simplified harvesting process that didn’t entail full mechanisation, MPS investigated manual machines they had seen abroad. They then started importing the harvesters, which came entirely assembled with plastic parts and components.
“Unfortunately the plastic could not withstand our handling and wear and tear so their longevity was not worth the investment. So we decided to redesign our own harvester, using the same concept but improving its durability and overall strength. We also had a plastic injection mould made for the finger wheels, to avoid having to import the wheels, thereby reducing the overall manufacturing costs of the harvester. The machines are now fully manufactured locally at our workshop,” said Martin.
The harvester is operated manually and works by being pushed forward over the ground where the nuts have fallen. The finger wheels rotate and the nuts are wedged between the fingers, picked up and dislodged into a standard lug box by finger combs at the apex of the finger wheel assembly. It is simple to operate, durable, and at R4 450 per harvester, does not require investments that could break the bank.
Although the harvester does collect stones and twigs as well, Martin said it was important to do proper skirting of the trees so that the harvester can be pushed underneath the canopy: a degree of orchard preparation also needed to be done beforehand. This can entail using a leaf blower to collect the leaves in the middle of the row, away from the nuts. A sorting belt can discard any stones after harvest.
“The benefits, however, far outweigh the extra preparation required, as significantly less labour is used to pick up bigger volumes of nuts in a shorter time. There is also less strain on workers, who don’t have to keep bending to pick up the nuts. The direct benefits are numerous, from a costing point of view as well as maintaining the quality of the nuts. You also don’t have soil compaction as you would with full mechanisation and heavy machinery moving over the rows.”
For small to medium farmers with limited possibilities for mechanisation, but rising labour costs, affordable, manual harvesters are a solution that could make all the difference to their bottom line.