A four-year project to deal with an age-old problem earned Hastings grower Ricks Crasborn the prestigious Fourneau Award at this year's Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers' Association awards.
Mr Crasborn, a fruitgrower and former packhouse operator, turned his mind to the problem of ruts between the rows in orchards.
Mastering computer-based systems and making them work for fruitgrowers earned Greg Hodges, 64, the Joe Bell Trophy at the awards. The award is given for service to the industry.
Mr Crasborn's idea came from a need to deal with the perennial problem of ruts which are caused by tractors and sprayers. They collect water, become mud holes and make life difficult for foot traffic and those operating Hydraladas for picking and pruning. After head-scratching and a few dead ends, he arrived at the rut filler.
Protoypes involved asparagus discs mounted on front of the tractor which had to be too heavy for the tractor steering. After much consultation with the engineers at Landquip the final working model uses discs, a power harrow and a roller made up of old forklift tyres and filled with concrete and mounted with a seeder to resow the grass so now the whole operation can be done in one pass at roughly 1.5km an hour.
The machine is cambered slightly so the centre of the row is raised to push rainfall to the sides.
He sees the machine, of which there is only one, being part of an orchard contractor's business. He has no plans for mass production because the machine he finally arrived at cost between $60,000 and $70,000 to build from scratch.
He said feedback from growers and workers alike has been positive because of the improved safety on orchards. Winning the Fourneau Award was a thrill but arriving at a workable version of the rut filler even more so.
And the next item on the Crasborn agenda? It involves E-bikes and tourists.
Greg Hodges' story began when he was asked in the late 1990s, when things were getting tough in the industry, to work on Enza's spray diary systems.
Growers must keep a diary of every chemical application in their orchards to ensure they meet the requirements of export markets for residue levels and withholding times.
When he began work everything was written in a paper diary and then checked and validated for compliance.
At the time of industry deregulation Enza outsourced that work to AgriQuality which meant that Mr Hodges went too. At the same time as the industry and technology were changing, so was the whole philosophy of chemical sprays on orchards.
The Integrated Fruit Production programme of targeted, species and disease-specific sprays used when needed rather than dictated by the calendar became the norm.
Mr Hodges then became the liaison person between the programmes and the growers. He developed and assessed it each year as export requirements became bigger and more complicated. The next step is an entirely web-based system to cut the steps needed to obtain the vital harvest certificate.
He has no plans to retire because he loves what he does.