Some of the latest in New Zealand and Dutch pipfruit sorting and packing technology has been installed in an Ettrick packhouse, encouraging greater efficiencies and productivity, without losing staff.
Minister for Agriculture Damien O'Connor opened the technology upgrade at the CAJ van der Voort packhouse in front of about 160 people on Friday evening.
Packhouse post harvest manager Jackie van der Voort said as the company's new plantings in Teviot Valley and Earnscleugh came on-stream, there would be a 50% increase in fruit volume so new technology was required to handle the additional capacity.
They would also retain their 85 to 90 staff.
She did not wish to say how much the upgrade cost, saying it was ''commercially sensitive'', although the cost was ''substantial.''
Ms van der Voort said the installations were the third of their four-stage project.
The first stage of the upgrade in 2016, included providing better staffing facilities.
''Stage two was when we expanded the shed, added 70m and a canopy in 2017,'' she said.
Stage three includes the installation of a Dutch 14-lane Greefa Geosort system, which can produce about 2500 cartons an hour, which is an increase of 60% in production.
They also upgraded all plant equipment and infrastructure.
That included camera surveillance equipment, a fibre and wireless network, a full power upgrade, a floor treatment to future-proof them for Food Act compliance, a new ceiling to reduce the loss of heat through existing skylights and improved lighting.
Greefa also provided a new in-feed system integrated with an automated high pressure apple wash system and brush bed.
They also installed an automated empty and full box carton system as well as an External Quality System, which can distinguish and grade for different defects.Ms van der Voort said sometimes, when people graded fruit, it was sometimes hard to get consistent lines.
They noticed spikes and troughs in grading before and after tea breaks.
''With the automated grading system we get a more consistent product.
''The machine doesn't have blip before a cup of tea.''
Rather than running the operation from 6am to 5.30pm six days a week, they will be working from 8am to 5pm five days a week.
Owner Con van der Voort said they had prided themselves in being forward thinking and being innovative.
''This four-stage development has allowed us to not only keep our existing workforce but also give them better jobs with more security due to our increased capacity and production'', he said.
''There has been a huge number of companies and professionals involved in this massive project, which we hope will allow us to continue our work as a market leader in the apple industry.''
The fourth stage of the project will be focused on automated palletisation, in 2021.
Southern Rural Life