A roof connecting the new packhouse at Jackson Orchards with the main store is yet to be completed, but the main line started operation yesterday grading and sorting apricots.

Construction of the 35.5sq m packhouse began in June and was scheduled to be completed by mid-February.

Orchard manager Tania Avis said the packhouse had a similar floor space to where they previously worked but was much more spacious.

“We used to work behind the store and it was quite close, and now we have spread our wings.”

The main line was purchased from Maf Roda Agrobotic in 2016 and its computer program scans the stone fruit for quality and size, before directing them to one of nine bays for final checks before being hand-packed. 

“The old machine had eight or so people sorting before the fruit came down the line,” Miss Avis said.

“All the different belts gives different sizes with the seconds coming out at the end.”

A smaller line with three bays had been in operation since the cherry season began in late November.

Orchard owner Kevin Jackson said when completed, the packhouse roof would join that of the store, with the existing wall removed so customers could see the packhouse in operation.

That view would tie in well with the tours Jackson Orchards had run for 15 years, he said.

The tours had been so popular the orchard had ordered two more 17-seater electric vehicles to add to the 14-seater they use. They received word last week that the Chinese-built vehicles had 

arrived in Australia, and should be in Cromwell by late January or early February.

Initially the tours had only been run during the harvest season, but they had proved popular through all four seasons, including in winter when there was sometimes ice on the trees. 

“It’s not only overseas visitors _ we get quite a lot of New Zealanders and even locals who bring their friends who are visiting,” Mr Jackson said.