Meet Optimus — a machine primed to transform olive harvesting

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The olive harvesters at Cobram Estate are working around the clock at Boort and Boundary Bend to bring in this year’s crop.

Each day half a billion olives are picked.

For the past 15 years a machine called Colossus has been getting the job done, but a new harvester called Optimus has joined the team, and it is tipped to be faster and more efficient.

Both machines operate in a similar way, straddling the olive tree, before the fingers on their rotating picking heads comb the olives off the branches.

Cobram Estate’s joint chief executive Leandro Ravetti says Optimus has six picking heads compared to Colossus’s two.

“That gives you more flexibility but at the same time, more intensity in the action, so that allows you to go faster,” he said.

There are two Optimus harvesters at Boort this season, but Mr Ravetti thinks that number will increase in the coming years, as 40 per cent of the company’s trees are still to reach maturity.

“We need new harvesters to cope with them, but also our Colossus is an ageing group of machines and we’re looking at phasing them out and as they need replacement,” Mr Ravetti said.

“Rather than buying a new Colossus, we’ll probably be looking at buying more new Optimus and gradually making the overall process a lot more efficient.”

Mr Ravetti says the introduction of the Optimus harvester, designed in Argentina, should mean that the company’s need for seasonal workers will remain stable, even as more trees reach maturity.

Leandro Ravetti stands beside a machine were olive oil is pouring out Leandro Ravetti stands beside a machine were olive oil is pouring out
Leandro Ravetti samples the olive oil produced this season.(ABC Rural: Kellie Hollingworth)

Roughly half of Cobram Estate’s olives are grown at Boundary Bend and Mr Ravetti says the new machines will eventually make their way to the groves further north.

“Boort has the largest amount of younger trees, so naturally the growth of harvest was going to happen here,” he said.

“So hopefully by the time that all the machines at Boort are Optimus, the machine is going to be really well designed and very reliable.

“That will be the time to start replacing the machines at Boundary Bend.”