It’s a simple fact of life – vegetables are delicate things. Drop a potato and it bruises; do the same with a carrot and it’ll split end-to-end.
It’s a particular issue for growers who load direct into boxes rather than into bulk trailers. With repeated swaps between boxes and no protective mats to cushion falls, the crop is very susceptible to damage.
Fall-breakers on the end of elevators can do their bit but have their own problems. And having someone standing up on the trailer placing a mat in the bottom of each box has its own safety implications.
Lincolnshire trailer manufacturer Richard Larrington has had his eye on this problem for a number of years. His first solution was to build a box trailer with a large cushioned fall-breaker frame to cover all eight boxes on board. When the frame is lifted, individual chutes gently channel the crop down into each box.
Although this system works well and some 170 Guardian box-loader trailers are out in the field, at £30,000-a-piece they are expensive and really limited just to potato work. Because of their shape, carrots and parsnips tend to bridge in the fall-breaker chutes, causing blockages and uneven box-filling. The spherical nature of potatoes means they tend to flow more freely through the system.
To overcome this issue Mr Larrington returned to the drawing board and came up with a completely new approach. Rather than add extra cushioning, why not tilt the boxes so that the height the crop drops is kept to a minimum?
Working with this approach, he has developed a trailer which will do just that. The four boxes on each side of the chassis are carried on frames which lift from the centre and tilt up to 45deg.
A central cushion running the length of the trailer channels the crop down into the boxes and cushioned frames covering the four boxes each side clamp them in position, helping to limit damage as the elevator moves from one box to another.
Because the boxes are raised at an angle the roots tumble down the sides rather than landing directly on the floor with a thump.
A camera at the back of the trailer gives the driver a view over the top of the boxes, enabling him to raise and lower the frames to limit drop height and ensure they are evenly filled.
Off to a swinging start?
We caught up with the first prototype Swing-Lift trailer working with Lincolnshire vegetable grower Alan Bartlett and Sons.
The firm is trialling a new approach with its carrot business. Rather than leaving the crop in the ground over winter and harvesting it as and when required to maintain freshness, the company has adopted the continental approach of lifting the crop and holding it in cold storage.
“It’s all about taste,” explains Alan Bartlett. “In principle we can leave our carrots in the ground up to 13 months. After all that time, they just don’t taste as good – the soil can taint them and the flavour seeps out.”
By aiming to lift the crop by the end of November it is hoped this effect will be diminished and whatever time the carrots come out of storage, they’ll taste as fresh as the day they went in.
But there is a potential flaw with this approach. Any cuts, splits and scuffs inflicted during harvesting can develop into more serious imperfections over time with the result that there will be more wastage.
“A broken carrot is worth nothing to us,” explains Mr Bartlett. “These are delicate vegetables that need handling with care. We’ve trialled the Larrington Guardian box-loader in the past but carrots just tend to bridge.
“By tilting the boxes, the Swing-Lift stops the carrots dropping any distance and they can flow freely into the boxes.”
Larrington Swing-Lift Trailer
Running gear: tri-axle with commercial brakes
Brakes: single-line hydraulics + twin line air-brakes
Carrying capacity: 8 boxes (12-box version in the pipeline)
Prices: £20,000 to £25,000