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Growing blueberries needs a delicate orange tractor touch

The B2420 Kubota models, with their low fuel consumption and operator’s comfort, make the work of Happy Lekabe, operator and Andrew Blom, store man on the Madikwe Berry Estate, a pleasure.

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Deep in the bush, and after a long stretch of typical dirt road towards the Botswana border, one suddenly comes to entrance to Madikwe Berry, a new farming enterprise in the vicinity of Dwaalboom.

It is a hive of activity where soon 50 hectares of blueberries will be cultivated in tunnels. Work on the project already started on May 1st 2017, and the first blueberries are expected to be picked coming August.

Francois Kriel is the project manager of Madikwe Berry. One of his first responsibilities was to pick a suitable tractor to cultivate this sensitive niche product.

“The three owners and shareholders of Madikwe Berry all support their own pet tractor brand, but I know Kubota and have used them in practice; so I knew Kubota would be the best tractor team for this branch of farming. We did choose Kubota,” says Francois. “The Kubota dealership in Brits, Maubra, offered us an excellent package deal for the first four B2420 models that we purchased.”

Madikwe Berry initially bought four B2420 Kubotas with a most affordable agreement from their agent, Maubra, in Brits. They intend purchasing more tractors before the high work demands of the harvesting season.

For the present the Kubotas move the nursery plants in plastic bags, remove pruning waste, and are used for other general work on the farm. During the harvest they will tow a “train” of specially designed trailers transporting the berries to the packing sheds. Sanitation stations are also towed and follow the labourers to ensure continuous hygienic conditions.

The rows in the tunnels are two metres wide and the outside width of the Kubotas is a mere 1,33 metre, making the work of the operators very easy. A further unique aspect of the Kubota range is that they are fitted with a “wet clutch” that enables the operator to move slowly between the rows without any friction between the moving parts of the clutch. This ensures an exceptionally long life for one of the most sensitive components of a tractor. Very important is the tractor’s turning circle of only 2,1 metres, which makes it ideal to work in a tunnel.

“The blueberry is a very sensitive crop. Every berry must be picked individually by hand with the fingers and a picker harvests about 15 kg/day. The berries may not shake during transport or be exposed to smoke. For all practical purposes it should be in a sterile environment. But Kubota is known for their silent-running engines with minimum vibration. Furthermore the Level 3 emission engines release the minimum fumes and smoke,” says Francois.

Francois appointed 12 operators so that each tractor will have a driver during harvesting. However, sharing the responsibility for a vehicle between different people poses a risk. Kubota made that management task much easier by intensive training of the operators by their agency and awarding everyone with a certificate of competency.

Kubota also expect the tractors not to be idle because of other reasons. “We have a service contract included in the purchase agreement with Maubra. The first service on a new tractor is after 50 hours; after that every 250 hours. When it is time for the service, we merely contact them and they come and do it on the farm,” says Francois.

Francois Kriel, operation manager of Madikwe Berry, had no other choice but Kubota tractors to provide that delicate touch for this delicate branch of farming.

Contact Robert Keir on landline telephone 011-284-2024 or send an email to robertk@smithpower.co.za  to obtain further information. The Kubota agents in Brits, Maubra Utility Products, can be contacted on cellphone 079-890-4438 or 076-600-3091.

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