The prototype of a trailed semi-mechanical broccoli harvester could be seen in action at Syngenta’s annual international Open Days in the Netherlands, last week. The brainchild of Polish broccoli grower Zenon Malek, after drawing a number of sketches he got a local engineering company to make the prototype. Dubbed as the Easy Broq project, broccoli heads are still cut from the plant by hand, but from then on travel along a hydraulically-powered conveyor to a pair of hydraulically-driven rotating cutting discs, which slice through the stalk. Key to the technique are the open-headed varieties currently in development at Syngenta, which results in individual florets once the stalk is cut. Florets travel up through the machine, pass a picking table, and into a box at the rear of the machine. Eight staff are needed – four to cut the broccoli, two on the picking table, one to replace the boxes and one on the harvester tractor. Mr Malek reckons 15 people would normally be required to achieve the same output, and this is the problem. “Broccoli growers are finding it increasing difficult to find people prepared to work in the fields in Poland,” he says. “We have to find new ways to reduce our dependence on manual labour.” Mr Malek is also Syngenta crop portfolio manager for brassicas in Northern and Central Europe, and the well-known international vegetable seed breeding company is developing a number of new varieties suitable for the semi-mechanical harvesting, some of which are capable of producing yields of up to 10t/ha. Now back in Poland, the plan is to make a few final tweaks to the harvester this winter ahead of a commercial launch next year. Expected price will be somewhere in the region of €10,000-€12,000, and the harvester will be available with the option of a second conveyor on the opposite side of the machine.