Sunday, August 14, 2011

The curse of being first-

We arranged to demonstrate machine picking of neohybrid hazelnuts 9 years ago. I'm astonished it's been so long. The entire world has changed, in the meantime; for one thing, the machine company we dealt with, BEI, Inc; has been sold. 9 years ago, I'd been talking to their founder and president, Butch Greiffendorf, for 15 years already. He was an enthusiast for the hazels, and came to one of our Annual Field Days, to see the crop for himself, and meet potential growers.

But he sold the company, the rascal, a year or so before I called BEI to arrange a trial, on the 9 acres of Badgersett hazels at Arbor Day Farm. Enough enthusiasm survived that the trial did happen.

We're trying to arrange real machine picking, now, this year; and so far it's been an uphill battle. These are harder economic times, of course. The Illinois planting we featured here is loaded, and really needs a machine.

I of course made a video of the picking trial; but it wasn't easily available for me to send around. Remember- 9 years ago? There was no YouTube. It finally dawned on me; there IS , now. So I put it up. Imagine that.

Hopefully this will help to explain to the picking companies where we are, and how we got here, and what it looks like when a blueberry picker picks hazelnuts.

The thing is; this video is ancient; and primitive, by today's standards. I shot it on one of the first digital cameras that could also make short videos. But this was so early, they had no sound capability, at all. And of course, the resolution is a long way from HD.

But it was simple; anyway. This whole thing was cobbled together from 4 or 5 short clips, all entirely edited within plain old QuickTime.

When you're the first at something- it means working with whatever tools there are; and later comers can look a lot slicker. But; they can't be first. :-)

How did it work? It worked just fine. If there were ripe nuts, the machine picked them. (There weren't many; they Arbor Day people set aside the rows right next to the woods for the machine trial- and the squirrels were active...) The unripe nuts stayed on the bushes, as did the leaves, and next season's catkins. The force these machines use is adjustable, in sophisticated ways; the force needed to pick hazelnuts was allowing walking-stick insects to come all the way through the machine into the harvest bucket- and get up and walk off.

We will need different innards for the machines - a cluster of 10 hazelnuts will not behave like a blueberry on the conveyers or in the cleaners; but the picking mechanism itself- was just fine.

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