The Wisconsin Hops Harvest Partnership: Demonstrating the feasibility of using small-scale, cooperative harvesting systems to enable sustainable commercial hops production in Wisconsin

2011 Annual Report for FNC10-801

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $11,784.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Kory Stalsberg
Hide-Away Hops Farm

The Wisconsin Hops Harvest Partnership: Demonstrating the feasibility of using small-scale, cooperative harvesting systems to enable sustainable commercial hops production in Wisconsin


The primary activities of the Wisconsin Hops Harvest Partnership during the first year included designing, building, and sharing small-scale, cooperative harvesting systems in order to test the technical and economic viability of small-scale commercial hops production. Specifically, we:

Designed, built and tested small scale harvesting innovations: We developed harvesting machines that are affordable and designed to reduce harvest labor:
• A new mechanical picker was designed and tested by Pine River Hops Farm and Afterglow Farm utilizing alterations made to readily available agricultural implements.
• A second-generation mechanical picker, based on a promising first-year design developed by Hide-Away Hops Farm was tested to benchmark improvements in labor reductions.
• Hide-Away-Hops Farm also engineered and tested separating equipment that mechanically removed the leaves from the harvested hop cones.

Piloted the use of shared harvesting equipment: Pine River Hops Farm and Afterglow Farm shared the new mechanical picker designed by Pine River Hops Farm. Hide-Away-Hops Farm shared its picker and separating machine with Pine River Hops Farm.

Harvesting can be improved with small-scale harvest machine innovations while maintaining consistent quality.
• Over the 2011 harvest season, our three hops farms tested differing harvest approaches and three new equipment innovations, subjecting each to different users and growing conditions to determine the effective rigor and adaptability of each innovation. We determined that:
• The low-cost mechanical picker developed and tested by both Pine River and Afterglow Farm proved ineffective at improving harvest time. The picker was not mechanically proficient and resulted in hand re-work that effectively diminished overall impact.
• The second generation harvest machine designed by Hide Away hops farm dramatically reduced harvest time and was mechanically superior to all other approaches tried to date by the three farms. Harvest times were reduced by more than 75 percent.

Sharing harvesting equipment is technically feasible and results in improved harvesting times while maintaining consistent quality.
• While the new equipment developed by Hide Away Hops Farm is dramatically more affordable than industrial scale, it is still be cost prohibitive for start-up farms. By sharing equipment, we aimed to assess whether potential further cost-savings can be realized by individual farms, even if only in the first years of start-up, or if the potential cost-savings is offset by insurmountable complexities of inefficiencies of sharing.
• By sharing the Hide Away Hops Harvesting equipment, Pine River Hops farm was also able to dramatically reduce harvest time over hand-harvesting and the other inferior mechanical harvesting methods tried. The economic analysis of sharing is still underway and not yet complete. The costs and complexity of attempting to share equipment may outweigh the costs of simply investing in the equipment on each farm, but this remains to be demonstrated through further analysis.

The project will conclude before the start of the next hops harvest season. We will proceed to adopt the mechanical harvester innovated by Hide Away Hops farm, given its superior methods for reducing harvest time, while maintaining quality. Before proceeding with harvesting equipment purchasing decisions, we will complete the economic analysis to determine overall feasibility of sharing the harvest equipment as compared to using a separate machine at each farm. We will write a final report to summarize our findings.

Approximately 8 people attended harvest days at Pine River Hops Farm during one day of harvest. 20 people attended the Hide Away Hops Farm during the harvest. Most were local individuals curious about the hop yard and harvest operations while two individual were from New Jersey. Attendees were able to observe the harvest machines in action and also participate in the harvest process.
As part of the final steps in our project, we will present our findings to colleagues at a hops conference in partnership with UW Extension in 2012. We will also share our findings and pictures on our website, and through our brewing partners.

Objectives/Performance Targets


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes