In the height of peach season, local growers say now is the time to make sure they're working efficiently and putting the best possible peaches out there. Thanks to a one-of-a-kind technology, one orchard says it's able to do both.
High Country Orchards in Palisade says it's slated to ship out 40,000 boxes of tree-ripened peaches this year to grocery stores across the state. In the heat of peach season, owner Theresa High says the pressure is on to get these riper, softer peaches to customers while they're still good.
"One of the difficulties that growers have getting tree-ripened peaches into the hands of the consumer is shipping it in a way that the peaches will be in number one condition and not bruised," said High.
Her solution -- a French-engineered, customized, digital packing line.
"It gives you a three-hundred sixty degree view of the peach and that's how we size the peach," said Matthew High, Theresa's son who helps run the machine.
The process begins with crates full of freshly picked peaches being brought to a warehouse. After emptying the crates onto a conveyer belt, the peaches make their way to two people, who pick out peaches that are too ripe or that have defects.
The good peaches are then pushed along to a specialized digital camera that takes seven shots of each peach on the line. A computer uses the shots to analyze the peach's weight and size, among other things, and tells the machine which of nine packaging lines to drop it down into.
"That way we get the same size in each box," said Matthew High. "It looks more presentable to the consumer and also gives us a very consistent weight."
The machine also weeds out any bad peaches that may have escaped the sorters, creating another layer of quality control before the peaches are boxed up and sent around another belt to be crated and loaded.
"When you come to watch it's like Santa's workshope in the winter around Christmastime," said Matthew High.
And they say it's just as efficient as efficient as Santa's elves. The Highs say it takes six minutes to get a pallet ready to load onto a truck. Each pallet contains 72 boxes.
"That's what makes this really exceptional," said Matthew High.
The orchard says the peaches go through the process five to seven times a week, from mid-July through the end of August.
The Highs say it's only because of their high-tech packing line that each one of their peaches is just what peach lovers have come to expect.
"Anything we put in the box here is number one," said Matthew High.
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