Matching upgrades with trends
The OMC (Orchard Machinery Co.) factory in Yuba City, California, bustles as machines are being assembled for the field — machines that are being put to work this harvest season. The process is thorough, and the caliber of quality in these machines is reflected in their builds.
Don Mayo heads the operation. In the 1960s, he was working for Deere & Co. when he met a man a few decades his senior who “had some crazy idea about shaking trees,” Mayo said. Shakers started appearing in the late 60s, and Mayo, who wasn’t keen on the idea of frequently moving around the country with Deere, joined OMC in the early 1970s.
“And, as they say, the rest is history,” said Mayo.
In that history is innovation and an ear to the ground for what growers and harvesters are looking for in equipment. OMC manufactures a variety of equipment for tree nut harvesting — shakers with and without booms, sweepers, shuttles, carts, hedgers, orchard rakes, shredders and more.
It takes about six months for a piece of equipment to go from concept to finished product, and the feedback from the field is taken to heart when the next run of machines comes off the line. Not only does feedback come from growers, but it also comes from OMC’s own crew using the machines in the field. Orchard Harvest Co., an OMC subsidiary, harvests roughly 20,000 acres of pistachios in California. Mayo also farms his own walnuts and almonds on a few hundred acres, making firsthand input valuable.
But some new products are making their way into the market. After making sure it was insurable, the decision to build a new hedger happened last October, and by February it was sitting at the World Ag Expo.
“I like it when people tell me we can’t do something,” said Mayo.
The upgraded hedger is the result of a few industry changes, the most major being that of labor. Not only is labor expensive, but it’s getting more difficult to find people who will do pruning tasks, resulting in the growing popularity of hedging.
Mayo likes to identify the weaknesses in the industry’s machinery and improve them. In this case, he saw that hedgers needed better agility, visibility, horsepower and tracks. The new engine has 200HP, 4WD and four-wheel steering, tracks from the world’s premier track builder, can handle eight degrees of lateral incline in variable fields, and other upgrades. The machine’s onboard computers also let users know the positions of the heads, height, angles and more.
But the current buzz surrounds automation, and OMC is joining the industry in that direction, seeing autonomy as the solution to a lot of the industry’s challenges.
“Sure, I can make that hedger steer itself,” said Mayo. “Can you imagine that thing with nobody in it?”
Shuttles are approaching autonomy as well, and for more purposes. Having shuttles with bolt-on options can turn the machine into a number of pieces of equipment seen in the field today. For example, bolting on a sprayer can turn an autonomous shuttle into an autonomous sprayer.
The more complicated task is automating shakers. While driving down the row is a “no brainer,” said Mayo, it gets a little trickier when dealing with the number of actions a shaker must do — drive, stick out the head, clamp, shake, track and move. When sticking out a shaker head, that 2,000-pound piece of machinery has to be within a couple of inches of accuracy.
“That’s some serious autonomy,” said Mayo. “But we stopped because I think we were going down the wrong track.”
Focus has been redirected from autonomous shakers and instead put on an OTT — Over The Top. While OMC makes catch frames for pistachio, Mayo believes that the OTT could revolutionize the pistachio industry, and also the almond industry as it makes its own moves toward off-ground harvest.
There currently is an over-the-top machine made by a manufacturer in Europe, and in OMC fashion, the goal is to improve it. The new machine can be hauled legally with a permit, but will require no pilot cars, and once unloaded is geared to stretch out in 5-10 minutes. It will travel on a track and have a shake of 2-3 seconds. Mayo anticipates that the OMC OTT will shake an average of eight trees per minute, with the length of time it takes to shake determined by how quickly the process can move. The plan is also to have one location to collect the nuts, instead of having product stored on both sides of the machine.
“This machine, it’s agile enough that I can back in behind, can load, see, turn around, and pull out. It can front dump or make the side dump; you can get in and get out,” said Mayo.
As patents continue to be secured, Mayo anticipates one machine being able to replace six people in the field. The OTT is expected to be in the field for the 2022 harvest.
Last year, OMC also made a decision to build a shredder for orchard brush to complement and round out their product line. The E-limb-inator — with a 600hp Cummins X15 Stage 5 engine, dual hydraulic motor-driven hammer mill, Soucy rubber tracks, and an operator platform placed over the machine for better visibility and control — was launched at the 2022 World Ag Expo and hit the field for the first time right after. The machine quickly and easily shreds massive amounts of brush into fine wood chips. In addition to being fully in production on the new products, shredding, hedging, topping, raking and more are offered as a service.
Mayo and OMC continue to look at new opportunities, while maintaining a high level of quality and a meaningful reputation for providing reliable parts and service. This comes directly from OMC in California and Oregon, and dealers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and in Georgia, and parts depots in Australia and Chile.
“If someone brings me a tractor, I’m going to fix it. Factory-owned anywhere in the world. I don’t take anybody’s business for granted,” said Mayo. “I believe you have to earn it every single year.”
Welding a shaker frame. Photo: Crystal Nay