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Continuous harvest of olives, field tests in Italy

Cutting down production costs using high olivepicker machine and native cultivars. Not only super-intensive harvest: trends and tendencies of the evolution of traditional harvest machines, from facilitators to trunk shakers

Weeks of field tests since late October and early December in Italy, in Tuscany and Umbria.

The first continuous harvest day took place in Riotorto (Livorno, Tuscany) in the experimental, high density olive grove within the Azienda Agricola San Frediano, which takes up 1,5 hectares of the 40 hectares that are destined to olive groves in this firm that produces high quality olive oil.
The research project coordinated by the University of Pisa, in cooperation with private sponsors (Azienda agricola San Frediano, Haifa Chemicals, Netafim, Società Pesciatina Orticultura e Terre
dell’Etruria), aims at obtaining indications on the possibility to produce extra virgin olive oil through a super-intensive cultivating model.

Thursday, November 12th, the experimental test, with the Pellenc high olivepicker machine, showed the relevant potential of this harvesting system that allows to drastically cut down the costs of harvesting. Few hours are enough to cover one hectare. Very few olives remained on the trees after the trial, confirming the high efficiency of the system. Also, the plants were not significantly damaged, other than some minor graze, easily fixed after the process was completed.

It is necessary to assess the sustainability of this method on the long term, but this first trial already pointed out some useful indications that give hope to the possibility of utilizing certain Tuscan cultivars also in a super-intensive setting. The test saw the participation of specialists and partners of the project, but more tests, open to the public, are going to be scheduled in order for the technicians and olive farmers to see and evaluate the machines and methods on the field.

A few days earlier, on October 30th, a similar test was carried out at the “Fondazione per l’Istruzione Agraria” Farm, in Perugia, on a 3 year old, super-intensive olive grove with 1600 plants/hectare, utilizing a New Holland scavallatrici machine.

Three year old olive trees showed a different type of growth according to the type: higher in the Frantoio, medium in the Leccino, Moraiolo and Maurino, limited in the Arbequina. The highest productive efficiency was found with Arbequina, Maurino e Leccino, followed by Moraiolo and Frantoio. These varieties were characterized by a different vegetative-productive behavior with respect to the distribution of the production in the different areas of the foliage. The pruning should maintain the vegetation at a distance not less than 50 cm up from the ground, in order to permit a good harvesting efficiency by the machine. The New Holland machine was very effective, with high performances and no loss of olives to the ground. The speed of advancement was about 1.5 km/hour, without relevant problems.

Still, the management of super-intensive, adult plants brings up issues, too. A high density plant requires much more competence and skills than a traditional one, from the point of view of the irrigation, pruning, and phytosanitary defense. The microclimate inside the olive grove is much more humid, and therefore more exposed to infections from fungi and bacteria. The control of the foliage growth becomes strategic to permit a correct functioning of the scavallatrici machines. Providing the necessary water is instrumental to reduce the competition between the roots, even though this may affect the productivity.


Not only grapepicker machines
The fourth national day for the mechanized harvest of olives, organized at the farm F.lli Palombaro, Magione (Perugia) by dall’Arusia Umbria, Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie e Ambientali of Università di Perugia, Gruppo Sole 24 ore Business Media, Società di Ortoflorofrutticoltura Italiana (SOI), Accademia Nazionale dell’Olivo e dell’Olio, Perugia Camera di Commercio, Unioncamere Umbria, AlfaLaval, Pieralisi, Comunità Montana Monti del Trasimeno e Medio Tevere, on October 30th, has provided several useful indication on harvesting machines. The field tests involved facilitators machines (electrical, pneumatic, endo-thermal engines machines) and trunc shaker.

As regards the facilitators machines, the main novelties concern the introduction of differently structured vibrating or whipping systems, from finger joints to lath devices, which are characterized by rotating or alternating motions, to poles with lateral or coil motions. In particular, the devices to move the beating device have been improved, by means of light and resistant materials. The peculiarities of any machine are such that its choice depend on the density and regularity of the foliage. Other interesting innovations are the introduction of electronic systems to control the power and vibrations according to the resistance of the foliage, the introduction of lighter machineries and the ergonomic distribution of weights in order to reduce the operators’ fatigue and the damage to the olives and trees. The makers of the machines offer long working guarantees, and a sufficient autonomy to the batteries.

In the field of trunc shaker, the optimization of vibrations suggested to adopt high frequency vibrations, faster than 30 Hz. As regards the head springs, the shock-absorbers with ending hooks are more and more widespread, because they give more stability to the head, both in phase of hooking and movement from a tree to the next. The application of vibrating heads on specialized vehicles, with 3 or 4 driving wheels, low center of mass, reverse umbrella, and significant operating capacities, is very interesting, as well as the application on radio-commanded trained wheels, where the head is moved by flexible arms, up to heights of 3-4 meters, with ample lateral movement flexibility.

Other applications are the spring on the 3 points attack to the traction engine, with revertible seat and commands for an easier management of the movements, or the application on the front of the traction engines with or without devices for the interception of the product.
The application of vibrating heads on industrial traction engines, excavators, and bulldozers, that can even be rented, allows to take advantage of their hydraulic system (tank, pumps, and oil distributors) to feed the vibrating head. These heads are often well positioned, and able to explore wide areas, thanks to the mobility of their arms.

The coupling between the reversed umbrella and the vibrator is more and more requested, and besides the improvements to make the operations faster and safer, important updates regard the possibility to regulate the inclination of the receiving walls, and to maintain them under tension, eliminating possible temporary tractions that may eventually cause breaks.






Special thanks:
Proff. Agostino Tombesi and Primo Proietti, Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie e Ambientali, Università di Perugia
Prof. Riccardo Gucci, Dipartimento di Coltivazione and Difesa delle Specie Legnose, Università di Pisa.

by Alberto Grimelli
04 january 2010, Technical Area > Olive & Oil

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