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The hero of the strawberry field.

When you've got 35 strawberry fields to cultivate, you need a good helper.

Harald Funck's strawberry fields have to be crammed full of the sweet fruits in time for the season. To ensure the seasonal business goes to plan, he relies on his new Unimog U 527 featuring the Agrio Tiger special body unit.

 

It's all about timing.

35 fields, 700,000 square metres of land, extending to a radius of almost 200 kilometres – that is the realm of Harald Funck, a strawberry grower from Hirschfeld near Zwickau. The strawberry growing and selling business – whether offered on a pick-your-own basis or sold directly through the charming kiosk made to look like a strawberry – is all about timing. Because that is the special feature of the strawberry business: the diligently grown and freshly sold prod­uct is available to buy for just two months a year. "Everything has to run perfectly in May and June, otherwise months of hard work would be wasted," the expert asserts.

Talking of hard work: To handle the long distances, the thorough protection and the watering of his deli­cate crops, Harald Funck relies on a new Unimog U 527. He commis­sioned agricultural machinery experts Sauerbier & Stiller to fit it with an Agrio Tiger crop protection unit. Alongside a 4000 litre tank, which the farmer normally fills from the hydrant, the main body com­ponent is the 18 metre boom which sprinkles the water and pesticide over his fields.

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Unimog for agricultural applications

In the video: The Unimog U 527 in use with strawberry farmer Harald Funck.

Adapted track width and tyre pressure control system were a must.

The key feature of the new Unimog is its specially adapted track width for strawberry crops. "That was the most important prerequisite for the new vehicle," explains Harald Funck, "because my fields are configured to an exact row spacing." The self-confessed Unimog fan additionally opted for an automatic gearbox and the tyre pressure control system when ordering the successor to his existing 2004 model Unimog U 500. The tried and proven predecessor is, in fact, fitted with the same body systems as the new acquisition – and is still also in use.

"The automatic tyre pressure control system really is the key," Harald Funck enthuses. "Two thirds of the 30,000 kilometres I drive a year is on asphalt, when moving between fields. So it's a huge benefit to be able to change tyre pressures quickly and easily from field to road mode." Another aspect of the Unimog which the "strawberry king" particularly appreciates is how easy it is to drive – an attribute unmatched in his experience by any other vehicle. "Driving the Unimog U 527 is never stressful, even when I am faced with very long days spreading pesticide over lots of fields because of bad weather," the farmer affirms.

"With a 4000 litre tank I can do about 4 hectares, that means on most of my fields I don't need to fill up again to cover all the field."

 

Harald Funck, Strawberry farmer

Meticulous fieldwork to protect plants.

People occasionally buying a punnet of fresh strawberries in June and July have little idea of what a strawberry grower's life is like. It includes over 10 months' hard work in the fields, apart from anything else. Fungicides and herbicides are essential to the production of tasty, juicy strawberries. The substances must be mixed in an exact ratio, in keeping with the soil quality and the weather. To do so, Harald Funck draws over 200,000 litres of water a year from hydrants. The substance is then mixed in with the water – closely monitored by the State Agriculture Agency.

The field work must be done before the high season from June to August. Because obviously spraying pesticide is not allowed shortly before the strawberries are consumed. In June, work is often also interrupted by the official food monitoring body to take samples. "If they found any residues of pesticides, I would not be authorised to sell my produce," Harald Funck explains.

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Two months when nothing can be allowed to go wrong.

The native Bavarian has been in Hirschfeld for 20 years, having learnt his trade as a youngster in the family business near Ingolstadt. The pick-your-own business model is also something he has always been familiar with, right from his time working with his parents: "I have always done well with pick-your-own over the years – better than by selling to retailers," he sums up. "But a lot of people also buy the ready-picked punnets. It's easier than having to go looking for strawberries yourself."

Culinary highlights that entice.

To provide over half of the 35 fields with ready-picked produce, around a dozen pickers now help out during the harvest time on the farm, ensuring a constant supply of fresh strawberries. Alongside the fruits themselves, home-made strawberry jams, smoothies and juices have also become big sellers at the kiosks. Harald Funck's wife now also works in the business, making sure sales keep turning over. The kiosks have to be provided with tills, change, and of course fresh produce – and the best way to do that is by a daily tour route.

Efficient in agricultural applications. Unimog U 527/U 530 fit for big trailers.

And that's also the best way of minimising "unnatural wastage". Even the occasional cheating picker cannot spoil Harald Funck's enjoyment of his business – he estimates losses due to theft at around 10 percent. That is a lot, but still means the successful strawberry entrepreneur gets to sell 90 percent of his harvest, providing culinary highlights of the summer for innumerable honest pick-your-owners and kiosk customers – who, by ancient custom, are of course also allowed to eat the produce while picking. That has always been the way in the quirky business with the sweet red fruits. And it always will be on Harald Funck's strawberry fields – Strawberry Fields Forever indeed.

Source: Unimog Magazine 2/2017
Text: Christian Bonk
Photos: Henrik Morlock

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