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Hop Picking Machines Reduce Labor
For Doug Weathers, owner of Sodbuster Farms, Ore., harvesting his 1,000 plus acres of hops has always been a time-consuming and labor-intensive undertaking.
    During a normal harvest season lasting approximately 5 weeks with round-the-clock work shifts, roughly 50 workers manually brought hop bines to three stationary picking and cleaning machines that he’d been using for decades. Hops were hung one at a time to be stripped of cones and leaves. From there, the machines separated the cones from debris before the hops were sent to a kiln or dryer to be dried and preserved before cooling and baling.
    Last year, Weathers switched to a newly designed hop picking machine from Kollmar Inc., of Grandview, Wash. To feed hops into this equipment, telehandlers or extended fork machines are used to load and bring them by the truckload from the fields. At the yard, they’re dumped into a slightly elevated chain conveyor which carries the bines to a sickle-blade cutter.
    “It slices them like a loaf of bread, about 18 in. in length,” says Weathers. “From there, they fall into a machine that rips them apart without damaging the cones. Then the material goes through a similar process of cleaning and removing the stems and leaves and separating the cones before they go to the dryer. With this machine, I can do the same work with about a third the number of staff.”
    Weathers is in the process of removing his three original machines from his buildings and adding a second new hop processor, this time from DK Fab of Woodburn, Ore.
    Between the two new unit purchases and installations, Weathers says he’ll be spending approximately $12,000,000 in capital improvements.
    “I’ll be able to have much more throughput with the two new machines and the work won’t be as physically demanding for the staff,” he says. “Plus, I’ll save around $650,000 a year in labor bills during a 5-week harvest period. I’ll also be able to pay my help more to run the equipment.”
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Doug Weathers, Sodbuster Farms Inc., 9815 Wheatland Rd., N., Salem, Ore. 97303 (ph 503-463-4424; office@sodbusterfarms.com; www.sodbusterfarms.com).

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #2