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New forklift completes the harvest fleet
Sunday, 03 January 2016 18:35

We have just added a third Kramer rough-terrain forklift to our handling fleet. This prompted Kramer to issue the following Press Release:

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KENT FRUIT GROWER TAKES DELIVERY OF THE VERY FIRST KRAMER 5065 WHEELED LOADER IN THE UK

A family owned fruit growing business in Kent has added a third Kramer wheeled loader to its machinery fleet with the recent purchase of a 5065, the very first of this new model to be delivered to a UK customer.

Robert Mitchell Farms of Sevenoaks specialises in growing Bramley apples on its 90 Ha holding, most of which are sold to the processing trade. The combination of good soil and climate ensures an annual production of some 3000 tonne of high quality apples plus 500 tonne of Conference pears which are grown especially for Sainsburys.

In 2008, the farm introduced a picking train system to harvest its apple crop which, once a pair of Kramer 350 compact wheeled loaders had been added, resulted in a super-efficient method with the Kramer machines unloading the picking trains at a series of collection points in the orchards.

Commenting on the Kramer fleet, Robert Mitchell said: "We fell in love with the machines the minute we had one on demo as they do everything we need. They are also very easy to drive, quiet in operation, and have superb all-round visibility for safe working."

The new 5065 machine, supplied through Mainserve Engineers, has now replaced an ageing and increasingly unreliable rough terrain forklift to complete the farm's fully integrated harvesting system. It is used to load the full bins, two at a time, onto large trailers for transport to the main yard where they are stacked prior to customer collection.

Kramer's 5065 model is powered by a water cooled Yanmar diesel engine developing 35 kW (48 hp) and features 4-wheel drive and steer, hydrostatic transmission and a single joystick control for all hydraulic and drive functions. The machine can handle a payload of up to 2 tonne in the transport position and has a maximum lift height of 3050 mm.

 
Harvest 2015
Sunday, 18 October 2015 11:37

 

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The 2015 harvest was certainly one of our most challenging due to the English weather.  Cool temperatures and a lack of sunshine in July/August made many fruits smaller than usual, reducing overall yields and delaying harvest dates for some orchards. Just as we got going, heavy rain turned our orchards to mud and interrupted many picking days. Even our four wheel drive tractors struggled on some of the hills. Overall, the apples were down on estimate but quality was good.  Our pears surprised us, with better yield than expected and excellent shape and skin finish.

We had our maximum number of pickers in the accommodation and therefore harvested in good time, before fruit quality worsened.  At the end, we did a final pick for cider/juice so that nothing was wasted and the orchards have a very bare look now.

 
Best cobnut crop for a decade
Sunday, 07 September 2014 17:56

 

 

Saturday 6th September was our final day of cobnut harvesting.  The fruit was large, clean and excellent quality so it was a race against time to complete harvesting before the crop fell from the trees.

We ended up with over 7.5 tonnes of nuts, seen here in cold storage before being pressed for the oil content.  This is the heaviest crop for over a decade, rewarding all our hard work in pruning and spraying.

Our cobnuts are pressed for oil at Hurstwood Farm and are also available fresh from The Hop Shop at Shoreham. Some are even exported to Spain!

 
Super Supervisor course
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 16:31

 

Supervisor Training Course 1Supervisor Training Course 3Supervisor Training Course 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concordia (UK) Ltd ran a "Super Supervisor" course on our farm at the beginning of harvest. Led by Ken Duckett, this was for all supervisors both experienced and brand new. We were joined by 3 supervisors from another Concordia farm in Essex.  A detailed examination of the role of the supervisor within the team was brought to life using team challenges and buckets of Lego bricks!  Feedback from the course has been excellent, giving new insights for the long and challenging harvest ahead.

 
2014 harvest starts early
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:45

Robert Mitchell Farms 2014 Picking Team 

 

Bramley apple picking began on 13th August, approximately one week earlier than usual.  Size and quality in the first few orchards has been excellent, with yields slightly above our initial estimates.  In the picture is one of the early teams using the new picking trains bought this year.  More pickers are arriving every day, building up to our maximum strength of 45 pickers working in 5 teams.

 
Spreading compost
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 20:02

 

Broad Seer Compost Spreading

 

Now that our new trees are waking up from their cold storage, they will develop very quickly and have a need for both nutrition and moisture.  They were all planted with special slow-release fertilizer which should feed them for 2 years, and the earlier rainfall has topped up the soil moisture.  Retaining this moisture for the delicate tree roots is a challenge in hot weather, so instead of our usual chopped straw we have spread this compost around the trees to maintain moist conditions and improve soil organic matter.

Produced at Blaise Farm in West Malling, this is the contents of household "green bins" collected, composted and refined under carefully controlled conditions.  Almost 150 tonnes of compost have been spread on this 4 hectare orchard by our contractor, Bournes of Newenden.

 
Crop prospects for 2014
Friday, 25 April 2014 19:08

 

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Compared with last year, the 2014 season is running about 3 weeks early.  The pears have flowered in good sunny weather, with lots of bee and insect activity.  Their work is now clearly visible, with an excellent initial set of tiny pear fruitlets standing upright in their thousands.  Over time, these thick clusters will thin naturally and the growing fruitlets will turn over to the hanging position.

The apples are going through the same process, but some way behind the pears.  Right now they are in full bloom, with probably the best display of flower we have ever seen.  It will be late June before we can start to predict the crop loads and in the meantime our spray operators have an important job to keep the developing crop free from insects and fungal diseases.

 
Replanting Bramley orchard
Friday, 25 April 2014 18:43

 

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When we decided to grub out Broad Seer Bramleys we did not expect the wettest winter on record! Grubbing and replanting in the same year is always challenging, and this project has certainly tested our patience.  When ground conditions finally dried up we finished burning the old trees and got our contractor PP Broad to do the cultivations.

In 3 days the 4 hectare field was ploughed, subsoiled and power harrowed to a smooth finish.  Ray and Jeff quickly marked out the tree positions, followed by standing up the new stakes in perfectly straight lines.  Terry and Dave did the knocking in while Bogdan, Christina and Robert planted and guarded the trees.  As we near completion of this project, the rains have returned and watered in the new trees.  There will be continued activity throughout the summer as we tie, spray and mulch the new trees.  As Broad Seer is on the central road through the farm, it will get plenty of visitors and is a project we can all be proud of.

 
Welcome Christina
Sunday, 26 January 2014 18:10

 

In January we expanded our winter team to cope with the huge pruning task and the orchard replanting. Christina from Romania, who had worked on the farm during harvest, came back as a trainee pruner and has been settling in well using the Electrocoup electronic secateurs. Christina is pictured here with Robert, pruning in Golding Hop orchard.

 
Orchard Replanting
Sunday, 26 January 2014 17:56

 

Grubbing

After harvest we decided that one of our Bramley orchards had reached the end of it's working life. Our newly purchased John Deere tractor and grubbing fork (operated by Terry Catt) started work and most of the trees have been grubbed and burned. Unfortunately the weather turned wet before Christmas and the job has been on hold ever since. We have the new trees, stakes and rabbit guards all ready for when the weather improves. This orchard is being replanted with 4 hectares of modern Bramley trees and should be in production by 2019.

 

 
Top Quality Apple Crop
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 20:06

 

The hot, dry summer was ideal for top quality apples as the sunshine produced high sugar levels and rapid cell development. As harvest progresses, heavy yields of high quality apples have become the story of 2013, while pear yields have been very disappointing. One very successful variety this year has been the traditional Egremont Russet, growing large and uniformly russeted fruit for the supermarket trade.

 

The picture shows one of our picking teams nearing the end of a hard day Russet picking.

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To cope with the challenge of a busy harvest, we have invested in more new tractors and a Kramer 350 rough-terrain forklift to unload the picking trains. Both are seen at work in one of our best Bramley orchards.

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No more potholes!
Saturday, 01 June 2013 15:20

All the farm roads have taken a beating during the cold, wet Winter.  It was therefore time to call our road contractors, Wilson Tarmac from Headcorn, to lay a new surface on the worst section at Sheet Hill Farm.  The base was dug out and re-profiled, then a new tarmac surface was laid in record time.  The result is a permanent improvement, and it will be a smooth ride for the 1,500 bins of fruit that are carted from this part of the farm every harvest.

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New Bins
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 16:13

 

Keeping our large stock of wooden fruit bins in good condition is always a big challenge. There comes a point where repairs become impossible or uneconomic, so for 2012 we purchased about 1,000 new bins from a specialist factory in Northern Ireland. Seen here in action, the new bins were easy to handle and kept the fruit in top condition during transit to the factory.

During the winter empty bins begin to be brought back to the farm, where they are checked, sorted and repaired ready for use next year. We look forward to purchasing more new bins to handle our increasing production of apples and pears.

 
Harvest 2012
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 15:38

 

Harvest 2012 is best described as "disappointing" in terms of crop yields, due to the cold, wet weather during flowering and the crucial fruit development period.

Despite looking good on the trees, crops harvested consistently failed to come up to estimates and we finished the season with only 58% of last year's bumper harvest. This shortage of fruit affected our customers and also our pickers who left early having had a short work period. However size and quality were excellent, with fruit scab well under control in a difficult season.

This story was repeated over most of the UK fruit growing areas and will mean higher prices and shortages until next harvest. We are already pruning the trees and booking our pickers for next harvest, so we all hope for better news in 2013.

 
Loader Training

 

We have just completed training and certification for our WEIDEMANN loading shovel, all arranged through East Malling Short Courses.  Four operators are now fully trained on this versatile and unique machine, using a variety of front attachments to shift bins, bales, prunings and stone.  The Weidemann is a key element of our bin logistics at harvest time, loading about 8000 bins each season.  Safe, efficient operation is vital as we get into another busy harvest.

 

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