Study Tour – Lettuce Harvester
The objective of the tour was to assess existing, new and emerging technologies that could improve the efficiency and effectiveness and how they could be integrated into existing systems in Australia. The tour focused on equipment for the lettuce industry (head lettuce iceberg, cos and salad mix) looking at lettuce harvesters, innovation in lettuce production and trends in varieties, packaging and marketing of lettuce. In order to maximise the learning experience the tour visited several leading manufacturers of lettuce harvesters in both countries as well as lettuce production in those regions. In California’s Salinas Valley we visited Ramsay Highlander in Gonzales and Valley Fabrication in Salinas, both manufacturers of specialized harvesting aids for the vegetable industry. Ramsay Highlander is internationally known as the world’s largest manufacturer of self-propelled Harvesting Aids. On our field visits we observed the launch of Ramsay’s newest product, the Mechanical Harvester in action, using a water jet cutting method to harvest cos lettuce. Although labour is used for sorting and packing of the mechanically cut lettuce heads, the process replaces 30 labourers from harvesting. What is characteristic for both of these manufactures is that they work closely with the growers to design and produce harvesting machines for individual growers. A good example of this harvesting aid in use was at Costa & Sons farm. Valley Fabrication built and designed the equipment, with the grower’s input, so that cutting and washing operations were completed on the field by two self-propelled specially designed machines. In Italy we visited Hortech and Ortomec two manufacturers of self-propelled harvesters for head lettuce and salad mix as well as tractor pulled machinery. Some of the differences between machines in California and Italy were size and robustness of materials used. Machines in California are lager in size, suitable for a larger scale operation, very often unique for property, area or commodity, and generally cannot be picked ‘off the shelf’, they must be ordered for a specific property. Machines in Italy are more suitable for the majority of properties in Australia and in terms of price relative to the farm size. Many salad mix harvesters from Italy have already been used in Australia, our advice would be to get in touch with someone using these in order to make an assessment of suitability before purchase. As for the harvesting machinery from California, currently that is the best technology available on the market. Individual farms need to make their own assessment if this is going to be suitable for their particular production and how long it will take them to pay off the investment.