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Field Evaluation of Mechanization System for Large Scale Pineapple

Production on Mineral Soils in Malaysia

I.H. Rukunudina, C.H. Mohammud, H. Abd. Rahim and A.R. Rohazrin
Mechanization and Automation Research Center
Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI)
Serdang, Selangor

Keywords: machinery systems, mechanization, mineral soils, farm productivity, large


The Malaysian pineapple industry is plagued with a number of production
issues such as the unavailability of farm labour, the low labour productivity under
the manual operation and the high cost of production. Such production constraints
impact the development of the industry. It has been acknowledged that a
mechanized farm operation is among the best long term options to overcoming the
above mentioned field production constraints. The introduction of farm
mechanization in many crop production systems has enabled producers to dispel
their worries about farm labour shortages, especially during peak hours. More
importantly, larger farms become possible with mechanization. The economy of
scale in crop production can mitigate the issue of possible unwarranted increase in
the production cost accrued with high farm investment under a mechanized system.
There are numerous pineapple machines available in the local or overseas markets.
However, the operation and working efficiencies of these machineries has not been
tested under local climatic and soil conditions or adapted for pineapple production.
The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) has
undertaken a study on the development of a mechanization package for commercial
scale cultivation of pineapple on mineral soil from planting to harvesting. The
machines performance was tested and evaluated in the LADANG Food Industry
Malaysia (FIMA Farm) pineapple plantation in Kluang, Johor. The study has
indicated that the machinery system evaluated has some potential for use in large
scale production of pineapples for both domestic and export markets. The paper will
discuss on the performance characteristics of a few selected pineapple machinery
systems tested for mineral soil conditions. 

Pineapple contributed about 26.7% of the total fruit production in Malaysia
(Anon., 2009a). The export value of fresh and canned pineapples in 2008 was reported to
be about RM 56 millions (USD 17.5 millions; USD 1.00=RM 3.20), with RM 22 millions
fresh produce and RM 34 millions canned products (Anon., 2009b). They are mostly
exported to the Middle East and Singapore. Over the last five years, the Malaysian
pineapple industry, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry has
undergone a process of revitalization. More new areas will be converted to pineapple
production including areas with mineral soils.
Pineapple cultivation has traditionally been constrained by lack of field labour and
low labour productivity to undertake the field operations like land preparation, planting,
fertilizing, crop maintenance and harvesting. The production volume and hence export
values, could have been boosted if production was enhanced through better production
practices such as the use of a machinery system.
The use of mechanized systems on the farm is known to enhance farm
productivity, both per unit area and per time basis. The scale of productivity enhancement

Proc. 7th International Pineapple Symposium 299

Eds.: H. Abdullah et al.
Acta Hort. 902, ISHS 2011
through the use of machine in farm operations, other than harvesting, is about 4-8-fold;
the variation depends on the types of crops and skill of the operators. In root crop
production for instance, harvesting consumed about 150 man-hours per ha (Md Akhir et
al., 2010). Similar observations have been found to be true in productivity improvement
in some field trials in mechanized pineapple production in Malaysia conducted by the
Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and the Malaysian
Pineapple Industry Board (MPIB).

Current Status of Mechanization in Malaysian Pineapple Production

The field machinery system currently used in pineapple production is only limited
to land preparation, consisting of disc ploughing, harrowing and tillage using a rotovator.
However, other major field operations such as planting and harvesting are carried out
manually. For operations such as the spraying of liquid chemicals such as weedicides,
insecticides, micronutrients and hormones, the operation is usually carried out using
knapsack sprayers. Even though there are a few pineapple machinery systems available in
the market, the performance and working efficiency of such machines have not been
tested and evaluated under local climatic and soil conditions or adapted in pineapple
production. This paper describes the field verification of the technical viability of selected
farm machinery systems under commercial pineapple production conducted on mineral


A study on the technical viability of selected machinery systems under
commercial scale pineapple production on mineral soil was carried out to establish their
performance characteristics. It involved almost the whole value chain of farm operations
in pineapple production from planting, crop maintenance, harvesting and postharvesting
operations. The machinery systems evaluated were either imported or locally fabricated
implements comprising a pineapple transplanter, an inter-row cultivator cum fertilizer
applicator, boom sprayer, boom conveyor fruit harvester, pineapple leaf slasher and plant
mulcher-cum-shredder. The imported machinery systems such as the transplanter, boom
sprayer and boom harvester underwent minor modifications to suit them to local
conditions. The locally fabricated machines were existing systems that were adapted for
pineapple mechanization. The machines were evaluated in LADANG Food Industry
Malaysia (FIMA farm) pineapple plantation in Kluang, Johor. The 10-ha plot was
configured for the mechanized farm operation. The analysis on the economic feasibility
can only be established if the technical viability is ascertained.
Planting Operation
The mechanized pineapple planting system evaluated was a 2-row 4-wheeled
based tractor-mounted transplanter made up of two sets of planting unit or a digger which
were connected to the main frame where the planting material bin is placed (Fig. 1). The
planting material bin was designed to hold 2,000 pineapple suckers. During the
transplanting operation, the drive wheel of the transplanter rotates and drives the digger
into motion. The two machine operators sitting behind the diggers pick the pineapple
suckers from the planting material bin and place them into the hole punched by the
digger. The transplanting mechanism is designed to plant two rows of crop with 51 cm
between rows and a planting distance of 23-31 cm within row. As the tractor moves
forward, the rear filler-wheels bury the root and compact the soil. The transplanter can
plant a 1 ha plot in 20 h, a work rate which is 4 times faster than manual operation.

Crop Maintenance
Crop maintenance is one of the field activities that usually requires repetitive
operations during a cropping cycle. It is not only labor intensive but can also have safety
ramifications especially in the handling of chemical inputs. In pineapple production, the
crop maintenance process can either be a single function or multiple functions in one

operation. It consists of weeding and chemical inputs application.
1. Simultaneous Weeding and Input Application. The machine evaluated consisted of
an inter-row cultivator-cum-fertilized applicator (Fig. 2). The implement performs two
functions in one process, a soil tillage operation during which the weeds between
pineapple rows are uprooted and exposed, and a granule fertilizer application. While the
middle mounted cutting rotor tilts the soil, it also uproots and lifts the weeds on the soil
surface. At the same time, fertilizer is applied along the side of the planted row. The
implement, which is equipped with a granular fertilizer bin can provide an average work
rate of about 1 ha/h but can be improved depending on plant density and ground terrain.
2. Chemical Input Spraying. A one-arm boom sprayer of 12 m length (Fig. 3) evaluated
in the study has 15 spraying nozzles equally spaced along the boom arm. It is connected
to an 800-L liquid tank via pipeline. The sprayer is mounted on a 4-wheel tractor which
powers the pump by the tractor’s PTO. A hydraulic system is employed to move the
boom. This machine is used in crop maintenance tasks such as in the spraying of
weedecides, insecticides and even flowering hormone.

Fruit Harvesting
The harvesting operation is one of the most laborious farm operations consuming
the most man hours per ha. Evaluation was also made on the performance of a
mechanically-aided boom harvesting machine with a 12 m equipped with a boom rubber
conveyor (Fig. 4). The conveyor is tucked on its base fixed to a trailer at the back of a
tractor. The movement of the conveyor is assisted by the tractor’s hydraulic system. The
trailer will be dragged along the farm road with the conveyor boom suspended
perpendicularly to the path of the tractor pointing towards the farm’s centre. During a
harvesting operation, the fruits are chopped manually from the plants by a gang of 3 field
workers and placed on the rubber conveyor, which transfers the fruit into a collecting box
mounted on a trailer. The fruits are conveyed from the centre of the field into the
collecting bin on the farm road. For a plot size of one ha, the harvesting operation can be
accomplished in 1 h. The fruit bin can be removed when it is filled and replaced with an
empty bin. The bin movements are controlled by electric motors.

Post Harvesting Operation

After a harvesting operation, the standing biomass is usually chemically treated
and/or burnt to prepare the land for the next crop. Such a process is not environmentally
sustainable. It is also a normal practice for farmers to manually chop the plant to obtain
suckers for the next cropping season.
1. Biomass Slashing. A mechanized field operation using a mechanical slasher to cut the
top to enhance new sucker growing was field tested and evaluated as an alternative to
manual chopping (Fig. 5). The implement selected had two S-shaped cutting blades
attached to gears and powered by the tractor’s PTO. The system slashes the top part of
pineapple plants at a work rate of 2 ha/h. The implement is equipped with an adjustable
slipper for height adjustment.
2. Plant Mulcher cum Shredder. The implement shreds the whole pineapple plants and
ploughs them back into the soil (Fig. 6). The mounted cutting rotor consists of 64
L-shaped blades that uproots and cuts the leaves and at the same time tills the soil. The
average machine working capacity is 0.25 ha/h, which can be improved depending on
plant density and ground terrain.

All the machinery systems tested and evaluated have the potential to be adapted
for Malaysian pineapple production under mineral soils. However, there are a few
prerequisites to successful adoption of the machinery systems in commercial production
of pineapple. The main limitation is the investment costs of the machinery systems,
especially for individual farmers who only own a small farm as the minimum size for a
mechanized farm operation in pineapple is about 40 ha. The larger commercial estate

farming operation could be the catalyst to purchase the machinery systems as their scale
of operation can justify the investment. They can in turn provide the services to the small
holders at a cost. On the other hand, machinery service can also be provided by
machinery contractors, a supporting industry that has amicably served the rice industry
over decades. It has been acknowledged that for efficient use of machinery systems, the
field plot must also be configured for mechanization, with good provision of farm roads
and headlands and correct plot dimension to avoid unnecessary downtime, soil and
machine damage.

Literature Cited
Anonymous. 2009a. Malaysian Agricultural Directory and Index 2009/2010. 12th edition.
Agriquest Sdn. Bhd., Malaysia.
Anonymous. 2009b. Pineaple export earnings recorded RM56 millions last year. Berita
Nasional (Bernama), 11 August 2009.
Md. Akhir, H.I., Ahmad, D. and Rukunudin, I.H. 2010. Field performance of a two-row
sweetpotato harvester prototype in Bris soil. World Engineering Congress, Kuching,
Sarawak, Malaysia 2-5 August.


Fig. 1. A 2-row 4-wheel-based tractor-mounted two-row transplanting machine with two

operator stations and the planting material bin.

Fig. 2. An inter-row cultivator-cum-fertilizer applicator.

Fig. 3. A 12-m boom sprayer for general field spraying of herbicides, insecticides and
hormones for forced induction of flowering.

Fig. 4. A 12-m boom harvester with removable fruit bin to facilitate harvesting of fruit
from the farm road side.

Fig. 5. A leaf rotory slasher to cut off the top part of crop after harvesting to stimulate
new sucker growth.

Fig. 6. A plant mulcher-cum-shredder adapted for chopping and incorporating pineapple
crop residue.