Horticulture program receives funding to research mechanical harvesting of hops in Ohio

By Brad Bergefurd, Extension Horticulture Specialist
 
With the rapidly expanding acreage of Ohio hops being planted and the increased high demand from the Ohio craft brewing industry for locally grown hops, the Horticulture program began researching in 2016 the adoption of small-scale, mobile hop harvesting production options for Ohio growers.  
 
The intent of this project is to demonstrate the feasibility of a mobile hop harvester with sufficient capacity to harvest one acre of hops per day. Mechanical harvesting technology like this is needed since most Ohio hop acreage is beginning to reach its peak harvest maturity, and the current hand-picking methods being used are very labor intense, costly and slow. This research and education project is in partnership with HopsHarvester LLC of Honeoye Falls, New York as a part of a USDA-funded hop research project.  
 
How It Works
 
The hop bine or plant is attached to a specially designed hook and is fed into the harvester using a chain drive. As the bine is pulled through the stripping section, stripping fingers remove leaves and hop cones from the bine. These are dropped to a main conveyor at the bottom of the machine as the stripped bine is pulled out the back of the harvester. The leaves and cones are dropped into a section of dribble belts which are inclined and rolling upward. The rough top of the dribble belts grabs leaves which lay flat on the belt while cones roll “downhill.” A suction fan also separates the leaves from the cones. 
 
In 2016 the Hop Harvester was demonstrated at field days in Piketon and Bowling Green, Ohio with over 200 viewing its operations.