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He Built His Own Hops Harvester
“I sort of got the cart before the horse,” says John Bonzo, president of HopsHarvester in Honeoye Falls, New York. “We started growing hops about four years ago and quickly discovered we weren’t prepared to handle the harvest. We needed a harvester.”
   After Bonzo searched for an affordable mobile harvesting machine and couldn’t find anything to his liking, he went to his machine shop and made one himself. “My goal was to build a machine that was rugged, low-maintenance and had easy access to all the parts,” he says. His machine was successful and now he’s making them for other hops producers.
  Bonzo’s HopsHarvester resembles a cross between a round baler and a combine. It’s powered by a tractor pto and built on an implement platform. The operator can easily move it around the hops field to be close to the bines being harvested. The machine is 72 in. wide and can fit down most hop yard isles.
  For optimum results, hops need to be harvested during a 3 to 5-day window, so capacity and throughput are critical, Bonzo says. The HopsHarvester can handle about 120 to 180 bines/hour, which equates to about one acre of plants. An ideal harvest crew would be 5 operators - one on the tractor, one feeding bines into the machine, one handling spent bines, and two handling the harvested hops.
  Bonzo’s machine is made with high quality heavy gauge metals, sealed bearings and low maintenance components used wherever possible. The machine sells for $25,000. The company also offers a machine powered by an auxilliary engine, which adds about $5,000 to the price. HopsHarvester sold several dozen machines in 2015 to hops growers in 16 states and Canada. Based on present orders, Bonzo is hoping to triple that volume in 2016.
  A video on the company’s website shows the HopsHarvester in action. Bonzo says the website has been a great asset for showcasing the machine and generating leads. The company also has a Facebook page. “Our best marketing results are coming from regional conferences,” he says. “Nearly half the people are there for the first time. They’re all interested in getting started in the hops-growing business. And this is all being driven by the tremendous growth of the craft-beer brewing industry in the U.S. and Canada.”
  The craft-brewing industry now makes up almost 11 percent of total beer sales, or more than $19.6 billion annually, according to the Brewers Association. In 2014, that represented 21.8 million barrels. California leads the nation with 431 craft breweries, followed by Washington (256), Colorado (235), Oregon (216), New York (181) and Michigan (159).
   Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Hops Harvester, County Road 64, Honeoye Falls, Mendon, New York 14472 (ph 585 415-5349; www.hopsharvester.com).

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2016 - Volume #40, Issue #2