Daniel and Belinda Blanco, macadamia farmers based at Wolvi near Gympie, set themselves very high standards for production, efficiency and safety. Megan Boote caught up with Daniel and Belinda to find out about their AMS award winning mobile dehusking and sorting plant.
In the 7 years since the Blancos purchased their first orchard with 6,200 trees, their holdings have grown to over 39,000 bearing trees across three farms in the Gympie region, with a further 3,000 trees planted in 2019, and there are another 12,000 trees on order for 2020 and 2021 planting.
The Blancos have three farms:
Both North Deep Creek and Boreen Point farms are a 30-minute drive from the home farm, in opposite directions.
The issue: Increased processing capacity needed
The rapid increase in the number of trees to manage and the distance of the two additional farms from the home farm brought about a number challenges for harvesting and processing the crop within the Blanco’s ideal timeframe. The sorting plant on all three farms needed upgrading or replacing, which would have been a very expensive project. Harvest runs for 16 weeks, usually starting in the first week of March with the aim of being finished by July.
A key tool in ensuring a short harvest period, and one of the main things leading to the inception and success of the mobile dehusking plant, is the use of Ethrel. Daniel said, “We have a very short window where Ethrel is affective – only about 3 weeks during April and May. I can see why people are hesitant in using it, but Ethrel has been used for the past 11 years on the home farm and we have never had an issue”. He adds, “You do have to get the rates spot on and if your shed, harvester and staff aren’t up to it, it can be a disaster.”
Their condensed harvest period allows for a significant IOM program on all three farms which is crucial for ongoing productivity. The IOM program includes major drainage works, deep ripping, pruning, skirting, tree height reduction, profiling, spreading fertiliser and soil amendments and this year spreading over 100,000 m3 of mulch onto the orchards.
The Blancos simply did not want their increasing tree numbers to force the harvest to go for longer because this would reduce their ability to complete IOM works after harvest. Neither did they want to have harvest interfering with the flowering period.
The solution: a mobile dehusking and sorting plant
The Agri-Mac 20 mobile dehusking and nut sorting plant is an ingenious solution for the Blancos growing macadamia enterprise and fits with their expectations for production, efficiency and safety across the three properties. The AMS spoke to Daniel and Belinda last year about the prototype machine and their initial thoughts on its success (see summer AMS News Bulletin, p. 49). Now, having completed their second harvest and undertaken various upgrades to the unit, the benefits are clear.
The Agri-mac 20 (built by Argi-Con Equipment in Bundaberg) is a fully integrated, standalone post-harvest macadamia dehusking and sorting plant. Towed between farms with a John Deere 6155 tractor, it is easily set up and can be moved between blocks, following the harvesters and leaving all husk and debris behind to be later spread back under the trees. The machine is powered by a diesel hydraulic engine and a diesel generator which power all facets of the machine via hydraulic and 3-phase electric power. As no connection to mains power is needed, the unit can be used anywhere and is not affected by rising power costs.
Receival and pre-clean
The receival bin holds two Monchiero bins of nut-in-husk (NIH) and has been upgraded after the first year to hydraulically tip, to avoid manual handling of NIH. The first elevator has been widened and hungry boards added to increase its capacity. Approximately 2 tonnes of NIH, stick, rock and leaf is received for every 1 tonne of in-shell that is produced. The product goes through a 65 mm x 65 mm rock and stick chain, then through a variable speed blower to remove leaf and light material.
Next, the positive drive, shortened double trommel with 16 mm external slots and internal 50 mm holes with helicoil, takes 6 seconds to push product through, separating most of the NIH and nut-size rock and debris out and delivering it to the top pre-sort room. Two people are required to remove rock from the sort belt in the top air-conditioned sorting room and there are plans to automate this process in the future. Flappers have been installed on the trash chutes on both sides to throw the husk and trash further from the unit.
The dehusker needs to do everything normally required of a dehusker but under field conditions. Made by Keba Engineering in Gympie, the dehusker is a hydraulically driven, 3-wheel drag tyre dehusker. “The dehusker is the heart of the machine. It’s the only one of its kind in the industry,” Daniel said. A walk platform was installed for safety above the dehusker and this doubles as a cover, keeping rain off the tyres. Nut is all dehusked green, often at high moisture, so having three tyres allows for a gentle and thorough process with minimal nut damage.
The in-shell trommel takes off excess husk and nut that is less than 16 mm in diameter. Then a high capacity, variable speed air-sorter removes light, immature and rat-eaten nut. The final sort room is also climate controlled, has two doors and space for four sorters who remove black nut, germination, insect damage and other defects. The entire unit can be controlled from the cab with the CBUS electronic control panel, alarms and kill switches for efficient and safe operation and in case of breakdowns.
The machine can operate at an output of 4 tonne of in-shell per hour, usually operating for 8 hours per day, and in-shell can be directly loaded into a truck and dispatched to the processor the same day.
The machine is running more efficiently and processing faster now and will go into its third season in 2021.
Upgrades have improved efficiency and operation
The 2020 harvest was the second year running the machine. “We are confident that we can handle the amount of nut coming through and we have our schedule worked out so that we arrive at each farm 14 days after the Ethrel application,” Belinda said. The original machine was a prototype. A lot of upgrades have already been completed and there are a few more planned for the future.
Belinda explained, “We have done a few upgrades to make it safer and more workable and also upgraded to more robust parts and materials.” Upgrades include steps, rails, jack stands for stability, an additional exit in the main sorting room, and improved lighting so they can operate in lower light conditions.
For the 2021 season, one of the Monchiero harvesters will be upgraded to the 20125 Ferox to increase harvesting capacity to keep the product up to the Agri-mac 20.
Around 9 L of diesel per hour are needed to run the two main engines which provide all hydraulic and electric power to run the entire unit. Running costs were down this year compared to last year (72 v 100 L/day), but it is expected to fluctuate with the season depending on nut size and the amount of leaf and debris coming in from the field.
A great team striving for perfection
A small, tight-knit team is used for harvest and the Blancos are committed to promoting a safe and happy team environment. “We have a lot of fun together and everyone enjoys themselves,” said Belinda.
During harvest, four seasonal staff are brought in to help the four local permanent staff. Six sorters and Belinda are needed to operate the Agri-Mac 20. There are two harvester drivers, and at least two stick pickers in front of the harvesters (which increases harvest efficiency and reduces downtime). Most of the staff are rotated through different jobs on a daily basis to help with team morale and enthusiasm.
The machine is cleaned down with compressed air daily using a mobile unit with a COMPAIR C42 compressor. Maintenance is done every 150 hours which takes about half a day, allowing for a full clean down at the same time.
The Agri-mac 20 machine is innovative and allows the Blancos to operate their farms in a way that suits them and their production system, and will allow them to continue improving their farms, develop and support their team and reach their productivity goals.
Daniel’s final word, “I am after perfection. It might not be for everyone, but it works for us.”
Congratulations to Daniel and Belinda on winning the 2020 Innovation of the Year!
Article written by:
Suncoast Gold Macadamias
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This website has been partly funded by Hort Innovation, using the macadamia research and development levy and contributions from the Australian Government.