Performance Evaluation of an Off-road Light Aerial Platform for Date Palm Cultivation
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Francesco Bonechi, Francesco Garbati Pegna, Enrico Bonaiuti. (15/3/2018). Performance Evaluation of an Off-road Light Aerial Platform for Date Palm Cultivation.
Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) cultivation is characterized by several operations performed at the frond level. Fronds can be many meters above the ground, especially in older groves or plantations. Mechanization in date palm farms is still lacking or inadequate, especially in medium and small farms of non-industrialized countries, and operations at the frond level are still done manually by climbing up the tree. Working at height without specific equipment is difficult, tiring and risky and many accidents occur to workers when climbing on taller palms with the traditional belt-based climbing system. In large specialized plantations of valuable date varieties, aerial platforms are used, generally derived from the construction industry, with or without adaptations to the specific task. Nevertheless, the high purchase price and maintenance costs don’t allow for their use in smaller farms. However even medium sized groves, where high value varieties are cultivated such as the world renowned Medjool in the Jordan Valley (H.K. of Jordan), could benefit of specialized mechanized equipment if of adequate size and cost, but suitable solutions have been missing until now. With the aim of proposing a versatile machine for aerial operations in date palm medium-sized farms, in 2016 the Italian manufacturers CO.ME.T. and ERREPPI marketed a compact aerial platform mounted on an off-road light carrier, specifically designed for use in palm plantations. The objective of this study is the evaluation of this self-moving aerial platform, named Xiraffe, in terms of timing, effectiveness and general attitude to work along the date palm cultivation process. This analysis is based on observations done and data collected in 2017, during harvesting field trials on Medjool date palms in the Jordan Valley. These trials, carried out on palms of different height and characteristics, aimed at comparing mechanized and traditional manual harvesting, which is still the most common method in the study area. The results showed that this small sized and agile machine proves to be effective while capable of improving work safety and timing when used to harvest palms between 6.0 and 9.4 meters high. However, the manual harvest is still more effective for medium and small farms in the test environment, but some technical improvement to the platform, such as modifying the bucket shape or providing it with specific tools for other operations (e.g. pruning, bagging or pollination), can reduce the gap, opening a completely new scenario in date palm cultivation.