Big O Farms Looks Towards a Bright Future with New Eqraft Grading & Packing Line

Big O Farms Looks Towards a Bright Future with New Eqraft Grading & Packing Line

Eqraft (USA) - After a devastating fire that destroyed Big O Farms’ onion factory in 2016, the family-run business opted for a completely new production line from Eqraft. Over four years later, the new machines are up and running. Maxwell Torrey from Big O Farms gives us an 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.

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.

As an expert in designing, building, and maintaining smart factories, specifically for onions, Eqraft had already visited Big O Farms in the past, but it wasn’t until after the devastating fire on Thanksgiving Day 2016 at a Torrey Farms equipment barn that the collaboration really took flight. “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. After visiting a couple of reference projects in the Netherlands in 2017, during which he was surprised by the advancements in technology, he was sure about his decision.

Overcoming setbacks:

Eqraft made a fresh start in 2019 with a change in ownership and new management. “That was a very nerve-racking time considering the amount of money and time we had already invested at that point,” says Maxwell. Other companies approached him about finishing the project Eqraft had started, but despite of the unfortunate situation, he wanted the exact technology that had impressed him during his trip to the Netherlands two years earlier. “I wanted them to finish it and the new management did the best they could to help us, so we decided to go for it.”

But 2020 brought along a new challenge: coronavirus restrictions made it very hard for Eqraft’s installation team to travel from the Netherlands to the United States and finish the project. Moreover, the delivery of machine parts was delayed. Maxwell: “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.” In order to limit travel between Europe and the US, Eqraft mobilized a company in Washington that helped with the installation. A combination of local technicians and Dutch team members managed to finally finish the installation.

“This machine effortlessly removes bad onions from a batch and sorts the rest into different quality categories, which allows us to have higher margins”.

Ahead of competition:

After all the challenges Big O Farms had to overcome during the collaboration, it was all the more rewarding to finally see the new line do its work. 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.

Using an automated sorting line means a significant reduction in manual labor. “We’re expecting a 75% deduction of hand grading,” says Max. That means 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.” He expects them to pick up the new way of working quickly. “They’re fast learners and the interface is quite user-friendly, so I don’t expect it to take up too much time.”

“The new, automated line has at least doubled the capacity as compared to the previous situation, in which most was done by hand”.

A joint approach

Maxwell did not just opt for a brand new line by Eqraft, but 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: “It worked very well having all three of them together and benefitting from their combined technology.” Thanks to Symach’s automated palletizing solution, his employees no longer have to hand stack piles of packaged onions. What’s more, the factory floor is also much cleaner since Modesta takes care of the dust extraction. “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.”

Bright future

Maxwell’s plan for the coming months is to learn as much about his new machines’ capabilities as he can in order to further improve margins. The results so far already make a great difference, he reveals: “The new line has a capacity that varies between 20 and 30 tons an hour, depending on onion size. In the old situation, we’d have to work really hard and have several lines running simultaneously to reach 10 tons an hour.” He’s glad to see all the hard work finally pay off. With the new factory line up and running, he can start looking towards the future. “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.”

Eqraft machinery:


  • Bunker
  • Belts
  • Beltsizer
  • Onion Topper
  • Inspection room
  • Brushing machine
  • Evenflow
  • Eqrader US 4+2
  • Vertical Bin Fillers
  • Double Bintipper
  • Exigo Weigher
  • Baxmatic


Symach machinery:

  • Empty Pallet Dispenser
  • Slip sheet Dispenser
  • Mach5.1 Palletizer
  • Rotating Arm Wrapper

Modesta installations:

  • Dust Extraction
  • Scraper conveyors
  • Wind Sifters

For more information about this article from Eqraft click here.

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