A Thorny Issue–Harvesters

For two years, we’ve been researching the merits of various harvesters, with a ‘forward looking’ mentality. Obviously, no one can pick 10,000 Haskap bushes by hand, even with the swimming pool method, and even with speedy pickers, at 10 minutes picking per plant, the math works out to 100,000 minutes or over 1500 man-hours….that’s simply not an option. Maybe for the Home Acre, which will likely be designated as a U-Pick Zone, but the other 9000+ plants will need a harvester of some sort.

Peter has talked to quite a few people and corresponded with the major players ‘BEI, OxBo, Joanna’. He’s watched countless videos on their operation, and talked with the sales people about the merits of all the different models they offer.

The biggest issues are several:

1. The Haskap is fairly unique in a harvesting perspective, because it carries a lot of fruit in the bottom 14-16″ of the plant, although that becomes less noticeable after the 4th and 5th year. Many of the harvesters don’t adequately reach that low. Pruning for harvesting equipment (as blueberry growers do) is not the option they seem to think it is, given that many of the shoots come almost directly from the base of the main shoots, although those appear ‘higher’ as the years progress.

2. Is branch breakage going to be an issue with the types like Joanna, that bend the branches 45 degrees? Those who use them say not.

3. Should we have provided berms prior to planting? That was the intention. Curtis (Haskap Central), and Garth (Willow Ridge) and Peter (us) are all working on that issue. Garth actually bermed his entire orchard prior to planting last week. We considered several factors as he was doing that (he’s kind of the guinea pig…). How high and wide, and flat–should the berms be? Would they erode away and be pointless over the next 3/4 years anyway? What would a berm do to drainage (dry out too fast?), and would the height of the berm affect the cold-hardiness of the plants in the winter, since the roots are more exposed? Will Stafford G2S Pickin’ Patch, who owns a Joanna and does custom harvesting, insists that berms are not necessary with the Haskaps, and that the machine reaches low enough to harvest most of the berries, particularly after the 4th year.

4. Production: How many acres/part acres do the machines harvest in an hour?

5. Pull behind (by tractor) or self-propelled (more expensive)?

In a few weeks, we are going to observe Will Stafford (G2S Pickin’ Patch) as he harvests a mature Haskap acreage with his Joanna Harvester. He is the Canadian distributor for Joanna.

University of SK also did a short study on the merits of the Joanna.

BEI Harvesters would like to talk us into their models, but we aren’t convinced they will go low enough to do an adequate job on Haskap.

Oxbo (Korvan) seems a little pricey to me, but if the equipment would be superior and the harvesting low enough not to waste berries, we’d consider sharing the cost with several others and perhaps consider custom harvesting in the future.

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