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$1M automation system speeds up Elgin County tomato farm

A new tomato processing system at an Elgin County farm is helping one Southwestern Ontario grower solve the industry’s longtime problem of finding enough field workers. DeBackere Farms Inc., which produces field and Roma tomatoes on five hectares southeast of St. Thomas, has invested $1 million in automation to ramp up sorting and processing.

“We’re very limited on finding sufficient help on the fields,” said farm owner Dan DeBackere. “But this (processing system) would help create less labor.” The machinery, made in the Netherlands, will reduce labor costs and speed up processing times. The farm introduced the processing line and a new barn to house it on Saturday.

With four lanes and 16 automated sections sorting the tomatoes, the box is packed by itself, DeBackere said. The only human labor required is “to put the box on, empty it, and take it off.” With the old machine, employees had to walk through the processing line to identify and pack tomatoes into a box – a process that was slow and required more workers, DeBackere said.

“With Roma tomatoes, it would take 10 people to do what three people can with the new line,“ he said.

“We have lots of work, so we’re not going to be cutting people’s jobs. But this will allow us to do more with less and use people where they’re needed more.”

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