To our surprise and delight, we find that Badgersett Research Corp is going to be harvesting neohybrid hazelnuts by machine, the very first time this has been done anywhere - this week. Thursday, Sept. 15th, to be exact, if present plans stay on track. That will be the first day; we plan many more to follow. First harvest will take place on the Illinois hazel field we picked by hand last year; after several days there, the machine will come to Badgersett Farm #1, in Minnesota; picking in MN will be Sept. 20, 21, 22; press event to be set. (Yes, we did pick a few some years ago, from the Badgersett hazel field at Arbor Day Farm, but that was just a demo/trial, not a real harvest. This is- real harvest.)
The machine is an older model self-propelled BEI blueberry picking machine, purchased in Michigan, by hazel growers and close friends who wish to remain entirely anonymous. And while Badgersett does not own this machine, we nonetheless have exclusive use of it for 2011, and will have continuing use of it for several years. The owners wants to pick their own hazels with it next year; and BRC is providing engineering consulting and extensive field testing, to jointly begin the process of fully adapting this type of harvesting machine to the task of genuine hazelnut crop picking.
As part of the agreement, in the coming years Badgersett will be able to offer custom machine harvest to other growers. If you've been finding your increasing hazel crops are becoming just too much for hand picking- you might want to contact us and start making arrangements for us to bring the machine to your farm - very soon.
This is the back view, showing the mechanism. The "tunnel" is 6 feet high, which we think will be adequate for most of the hazels at the Illinois farm, and the younger hazels we'll be using it on in Minnesota.
The side/front view. The machine has hydraulic adjustments for the wheels to allow compensation for field slopes.
Everyone needs to realize; as we do; that having this machine does not mean "machine harvest" for bush hazels is here, fully developed and ready for prime time. It means we can now truly begin the process of adapting the machine to the plants; and adapting the plants to the machine.
For at least 20 years now, we've been noting in our hazelnut data whenever a particular hazel plant was "machine pickable"; meaning the nut clusters were not yet dropped, but would come off with a little moderate shaking - and - the bush was of a size and flexibility that would be likely to work.
Starting in 2012, we will be taking the next, and highly important, step in adapting plants to machines: we will be planting ourselves, and offering for sale; hazelnut tubelings from nuts that - were picked - by machine. It's an authentic evolutionary step; if you'd like your field to have a better chance of being machine harvestable; planting it with seedlings from nuts that were successfully picked by a machine is a huge step in the right direction.
Stay tuned here for more information. The harvest event at the Illinois farm is a closed event; open only by invitation to Badgersett stock holders, past volunteers, and the press; but the harvest events at Farm #1 in Minnesota will be open to the public. You're welcome to come - and maybe even lend a hand.