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.
During the first year, we had two primary objectives:
To demonstrate that harvesting can be improved with small-scale harvest machine innovations while maintaining consistent quality.
To demonstrate the sharing harvesting equipment is technically feasible and results in improved harvesting times while maintaining consistent quality.
After completion of the first year, we had the following accomplishments related to our objectives:
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%.
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.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The project will conclude before the start of the next hops harvest season so we are now wrapping up the project and will likely file our final report in the next quarter. Since we have not finished analyzing our results, the ultimate impacts are yet uncertain. We will likely conclude that small harvesting equipment is viable - and there are several possible methods that can work. We will likely conclude that sharing equipment is not particularly viable except in limited circumstances.
This 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 sometime later this year, 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. We will also participate in additional public educational opportunities to share our findings over the Spring and Summer 2012.