Featured image: Big O Farms, courtesy of Eqraft (more photos and video below)
A devastating fire destroyed Big O Farms’ onion factory in 2016, resulting in the family-run business opting for a completely new production line from Eqraft. Now, more than four years later, new machines are up and running, and Big O Farms’ Maxwell Torrey provided an update to Eqraft, who shared the news on its website at https://www.eqraft.com/news/big-o-farms-update.
“It’s a Wednesday morning at Torrey Farms’ production site in Elba, New York, and Maxwell Torrey is busy with the finishing touches of the installation of a new onion sorting and packaging line as we call him for an update on the project. He responds enthusiastically: ‘It’s going really well. We’re currently doing a few last tweaks on the software, but we can already tell the machines are performing as we hoped they would.’
“It’s been a long time coming: the fire of 2016 wasn’t the only setback Big O Farms had to deal with. Due to a change in management at Eqraft and COVID-related travel restrictions, the project was delayed even further. But now, in spring 2021, the new machines are finally up and running and doing exactly what they promised.”
The update continued, “Maxwell Torrey is a 12th generation Torrey family farmer: his ancestors have been working in agriculture for more than three centuries. Torrey Farms is currently one of the biggest vegetable crop farms in the state of New York. They grow, harvest, package, and ship locally grown vegetables – zucchinis, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers – to retailers, food services, and wholesale and terminal markets up and down the East Coast. Big O Farms is the business unit that produces onions.
Eqraft had visited Big O Farms in the past, and after the devastating fire on Thanksgiving Day 2016 at a Torrey Farms equipment barn, a collaboration was formed. Maxwell said, “We needed a whole new packaging line as soon as possible, so we approached Eqraft right after the fire, because we trusted they would be able to deliver a more efficient production line that requires less manual labor.” Maxwell recalls.
He visited a couple of reference projects in the Netherlands in 2017, and impressed by the advancements in technology, he made his decision.
Eqraft itself underwent a change in ownership and new management in 2019, making a fresh start. Maxwell said the transition time for Eqraft was a “nerve-racking time… considering the amount of money and time we had already invested at that point.” However, even though other companies contacted him about finishing the project, Maxwell knew he wanted the exact technology he’d seen during his trip to the Netherlands and wanted Eqraft to finish the job. He said the new management “did the best they could to help us, so we decided to go for it.”
Of course, 2020 brought its own challenge, and COVID-19 restrictions made it difficult for Eqraft’s installation team to travel from the Netherlands to the United States to complete the project. Deliveries of parts were delayed as well.
“Eqraft really did their best to get all the parts here and get the right people on-site for the installation, but corona stretched it out for almost another year,” Maxwell said.
To limit travel between Europe and the U.S., Eqraft mobilized a company in Washington that helped with the installation, and a combined team of local technicians and Dutch team members “managed to finally finish the installation.”
Now, after the series of challenges Big O overcame, it “was all the more rewarding to finally see the new line do its work,” the update related
“For instance, the Eqrader, an electronic grader, sets them aside from competitors, as it evaluates their onions’ quality both internally and externally. “Sorting onions by hand is not only labor-intensive, but it also leads to an inconstant quality and it makes it impossible to detect rot on the inside,” explains Maxwell. “This machine effortlessly removes bad onions from a batch and sorts the rest into different quality categories, which allows us to have higher margins. It also makes our onions more attractive to clients, as it’s a guarantee for quality.”
So far, the Torrey family are the only ones on the East Coast with an electronic grader.
Maxwell also said that using an automated sorting line means a significant reduction in manual labor. “We’re expecting a 75 percent deduction of hand grading,” he said in the update. Many of Big O Farms’ employees won’t have to stand next to the conveyor belt anymore and can be used in other areas. “The operators are excited: it’s something new and it’ll make their work easier.”
Big O didn’t opt only for a brand new line by Eqraft; the operation also collaborated with two of the other OTA partners, choosing a Modesta filter system and a palletizing and pallet wrapping line from Symach. The Onion Tech Alliance is a joint effort of the three Dutch companies to let factories benefit from an integrated project approach. Throughout the years, representatives from all three companies were on-site in Elba to work out the best possible solution for Big O Farms.
Maxwell said in the update, “It worked very well having all three of them together and benefitting from their combined technology. Their solutions definitely make our working environment a lot nicer. I can tell it’s a huge difference: it’s less dusty and noisy than it was before.”
Maxwell said that the hard work is paying off, and he looks forward to the future. He closes the update by saying, “I’m comfortable to say I’d choose Eqraft again. The last couple of years have been challenging, but we’ve come out a stronger company and, in the end, we got exactly what we wanted when we first chose to work with Eqraft. The future looks bright.”
Many thanks to our friends at Eqraft for sharing photos and video of the Big O Farms new packing operation.
To find Eqraft dealers & agents visit: https://www.eqraft.com/dealers-agents