Robert Neville stands next to the bin moving system he invented and built at his Coldstream farm.
Two of the biggest frustrations at harvest are the amount of walking required and the hassle of moving bins. Pickers can spend more time pacing back and forth to the bin than they do picking; and tractor hours fly faster than the second hand on a clock. That’s the way it has always been and no one has offered up an efficient way to change it.
That is until Robert Neville became an orchardist. A former Saskatchewan farmer, Neville’s leased land on the prairies was gradually bought by bigger farmers prompting an exit from the province in 1995. Relocated to Vernon, he helped a friend plant apple trees in an orchard in 2005 and was bitten by the orcharding bug.
Neville leased three acres from that friend, then in time took over the entire 13.5 acre orchard with dreams of growing and harvesting apples. He sells Gala, Ambrosia, Honey Crisp, Spartan and Aurora varieties to the Okanagan tree Fruit Cooperative through his operation, Neville Orchards.
“It’s been a huge learning curve,” Neville says. “It’s so much more involved horticulturally and a lot more hand labour than farming on the prairies. I’m always trying to [think] of ways to make my orchard more efficient.”
Two years ago, while moving bins he noted he had to move them every 15 minutes. He considered ways to make both picking and bin movement easier. He wanted something sturdy that the pickers could manage on their own, but which didn’t require excess strength or time.
Neville applied his farm-produced ingenuity (and skills as a marine mechanic) and invented the personal bin moving system using funding from the Growing Forward and Investment Agriculture Foundation [IAF] of British Columbia.
“I was just trying to find a more efficient way,” he says.
With his bin moving system, pickers can move two bins on their own, without a tractor. As they move down the row, bins are carried along with them on the mover. When full, the bins are left in the row for more efficient tractor runs.
“The pickers really enjoy it because they don’t have to walk more than five feet,” Neville notes. “They’re (the pickers are) more efficient and they can work more hours.”
In his own orchard, Neville says pickers like the system so much they were arguing about who was going to work in the section with the bin mover during this past harvest. He says the bin mover reduced tractor hours by 50%.
Because of its simplicity and minimal required training, the bin mover can be used for a variety of applications from orchards, to vineyards and other produce, although testing was done only in apple orchards. “It will work on anything that you want to pick,” Neville says.
“It’s really just a pallet jack.”
The system has been tried in 10 different apple orchards using four prototypes Neville built with the government funding.
“The first one took me two months to build,” he says.
The time to build included drawing up the plans, welding and assembly. He notes these skills were common on the farm, so it came naturally to him to seek out a solution he could create himself.
“Innovations like this reflect one of IAF’s key commitments because it addresses producer needs and advances the industry as a whole,” comments IAF director Robert Dawson, a Similkameen orchardist. “This system has the potential to improve efficiency in high-density plantings that the industry has heavily invested in. It is our hope that this technology will provide B.C.’s orchard and vineyard industries with an environmentally conscious and sustainable option for improving their operations.”
Neville notes the bin mover works on green energy and is quiet because it runs on two six volt batteries. For those who want to take that green energy to the next level, an additional solar kit is available to charge the batteries.
The 12 volt hydraulic power pack runs the 11.3 cubic inch hydraulic system, driving the front guide wheel. Most importantly though, at just over five feet wide, the bin mover is narrower than a tractor and moves easily through pruned rows as narrow as nine feet wide.
“I got fairly positive feedback on it,” says Neville of the local apple orchard trials. “One [grower] was concerned it would be tippy, but the more weight you put on it the better.”
Some farmers who tested it even requested tweaking specific to their operation like custom bin sizes. Neville notes he has modified the bin movers for users and can easily customize the bins sizes to certain specifications. ■
For more information contact Neville Orchards, 250-542-4150 or