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Hops Composting on New Zealand Farm

In this blog post, I have the privilege of sharing insight about composting from Brent McGlashen of New Zealand's Mac Hops Farm, Brent is a proponent of using PLA or bioplastic twine in lieu of traditional plastic string or coir in hops production. Several years of collaboration with a PLA manufacturer has produced string specifically for the hops industry. According to Brent, this string is, "exceptional in our compost system. I have turned this year’s pile twice and after 30 days, about 80% of it had vanished." Brent, knowing well that many hops growers in the Pacific Northwest use coconut coir for twining, noted that if growers in "[that] part of the world" change to bioplastic string, "then they really will appreciate how much of an asset this exceptional compost is.” Here are Brent's words of wisdom about the benefits of composting for a hops operation and why choosing the right twine is important for the process. 
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Composting has been an important part of our farming system ever since machine harvesting first started. We purchased a guillotine chopper component to our Bruff Hop Picking machine back when it was installed in 1963. The only problem was, we didn’t have a powerful enough tractor to turn the compost, so it took a long time for it to completely compost. Nowadays, we have our big 20-ton digger that turns our full year’s crop in a couple of hours!

At the time of the first hop machines, often it was the last thing to think about in the process was what to do with the end product termed ‘The Waste’. A majority of growers would just spread the material green back out onto their fields. This practice is still done today as growers perceive that the benefit to having compost doesn’t add up to the land use for your composting pile or the cost of doing it. Over the many years we have certainly proved to ourselves and others who have seen what we can achieve by utilising this so called ‘Waste product’ and turning it into a big benefit for our farming system. Some of our hop fields have been cropping hops continuously now for 70+ years, and still producing towards the top end in the yield statistics. You don’t get these results by mistreatment of your plants and soils.

The hop bine, as everyone knows, is a very bulky plant that has a relatively low yield in weight of cones vs greenery. All this material has had to use an extensive amount of soil nutrients and applied nutrients to sustain its rapid growth rates to carry the crop through till harvest. Now just think about it, these nutrients don’t just disappear into thin air as soon as the hops are stripped off the bines when going into the machine. So why not capture as much of that goodness as possible to use in the future as a merry-go-round of the nutrient cycle.

The biggest challenge we have faced in our composting system has been the string. After years and years of manually pulling the sting out by hand after each tractor bucketload, things had to change as we got more compost. So, we acquired a screener. This works very well to separate the earthy compost material from the string, but the compost needs to be relatively dry. Here in New Zealand, we get a lot of rain so some years we can only process the compost for several weeks. So, we needed to find a hop compostable string. We (Mac Hops) have been trialing different string products from all around the world for many, many years now. Little did we know, the best product was about to turn up on our doorstep from here in New Zealand.

We have been working with Joe Wiid from Extrutec Ltd. for the last three years now. We have never had the actual producer of the string spend time on our farm with our stringing crews learning what they like and don’t like about the string. Then, to go away and give us several prototypes that we can trial and evaluate, and even follow this through to the compost pile to test composability. We now string our whole farm in the product that Joe has made us.

In New Zealand we have three string products on offer:

  1. Plastic Type Twine: Very strong and holds up to many of our New Zealand weather challenges but doesn’t breakdown in composting.
  2. Coir: Expensive to buy in small quantities for the smaller farm sizes in New Zealand, doesn’t suit our thinner grade wire when we use vine pullers for machine harvest, requires a lot of labour to erect, takes a very, very long time to breakdown to the point the compost is getting too old to be effective.
  3. Extrutec Ltd. Hop Compostable String: Breaks down in the heat from the compost pile (within 30-90 days!), the easiest string to apply for our hand tying crew.

   


Day 1

Hop Compostable vs Coir

 


Day 59

Hop Compostable vs Coir


Cost for just the raw product in a ratio:

  • Plastic 1, Hop Compostable 2.8, Coir 3.3

Cost for application

  • Coir leaps ahead in labour expenses

Cost in composting system

  • Hop compostable wins hands down

 

3 Tips for Anyone Wanting to Start or Better Their Hop Composting System

 


Tip 1

Use a guillotine type chopper as opposed to a rotary or shredder chopper. The guillotine style chopper cuts the bines into ‘straw’ lengths which shuts all the goodness in that part of the bine down into that length. Over in the compost pile, these ‘straw’ lengths allow for micro air pockets that maintain oxygen in the pile but still contain the heat and composting spores.

 


Tip 2

Store your hop compost in a high windrow type pile. This contains the heat as best as possible especially after harvest when you head into the winter months. It is vital that you keep the bulk of the pile as close to a composting temperature of 60-70⁰ C (140-158⁰ F) for as long as possible for rapid break down.

 


Tip 3

Turn your pile at least once within the first month of harvest and before the cold weather starts to set in. This helps aerate those locked-off oxygen areas and mixes the composting spores that have started. It will depend on the equipment you have and your farm size, but regular turning after that will help speed up your composting but you need to maintain that heat. Full breakdown (to become a soil type product) can happen within 12-18 months.

 

Summary:

Compost is a highly valuable resource, not a waste stream.

Photo credit: Brent McGlashen, Mac Hops

 


 


QR Barcode 2nd Sight Website

Many of our labor and product tracking systems utilize barcodes to track and trace. We often receive questions about whether 2nd Sight provides barcodes, or if there are required barcode specifications. In most cases, our software only requires a unique identifier. However, there are many types of barcodes and it can get overwhelming to choose. Each barcode serves a purpose. Here is a summary of the most common barcode formats and why one type may be better suited for a specific application.

1D Versus 2D
There are two main groups of barcodes, one-dimensional or “linear” and two-dimensional barcodes. A “1D” barcode is what you likely imagine when you hear the word “barcode”. The classic zebra stripe pattern encodes numbers (and in some cases letters and characters) that help identify a specific item or type of item. “2D” barcodes contain many small dots instead of bars and offer more storage potential and even better readability—regardless of printing size.

In specialty crop farming, 1D barcodes are often printed on apple and pear bin tags. The barcode provides a unique number that allows the packing house to identify various information about the crop. These bin tags offer an easy solution to start traceability in the field. When a grower can link the picker to the produce and provide a pick time and date, any issues that may arise down the supply chain can be traced back to the source so that other affected produce may also be identified quickly and accurately. Here are some examples of commonly used 1D barcodes.

UPC

Stands for: Universal Product Code
Purpose: Easily identify an object’s attributes, efficient product tracking
Benefits: Widely used
Applications:   Retail point of sale scanning
Count: UPC-A = 12 digits, UPC-E = 6 digits


EAN

Stands for: European Article Number
Purpose: Easily identify an object’s attributes, efficient product tracking
Benefits: Suitable for small locations, fast-scanning
Applications:   Retail point of sale scanning
Count EAN-13 = 13 digits, EAN-8 = 8 digits


Code128

Stands for: Use all 128 characters of ASCII (character encoding set)
Purpose: Encode large amounts of information (such as serial numbers)
Benefits: Compact, high-density, supports digits, letters, and many characters
Applications:   Logistics, transportation, shipping, and tracking
Count: Based on the application, size, and scanner capabilities


ITF

Stands for: Interleaved 2 of 5
Purpose: Label packaging materials (cardboard)
Benefits: Self-checking code suitable for printing on product packaging
Limitations: Can only encode numbers
Applications:   Many industries, product packaging
Count: 14 numeric digits


Code39

Stands for: Code 3 of 9
Purpose: Label goods
Benefits: Utilize both digits and characters, readable by many scanners
Limitations: Not suitable for small items
Applications:   Automotive, government, asset tracking
Count: 43 characters


2D barcodes are a newer category of barcodes that offer more data storage and increased readability to keep data scannable—even after being ripped or damaged. At 2nd Sight, we recently released a feature on our InstaCaliper and TallyTrak nursery inventory capture app that utilizes QR Codes to auto populate information. Typically, an operator would search through a drop-down menu to locate the correct field location, row number, and variety. Now, the nursery can follow a specific format to generate QR codes that store this information. The operator can scan the barcode to quickly populate the correct information, saving time and minimizing errors. Here are a few common 2D barcode types:


QR Codes

Stands for: Quick Response
Purpose: Encode a lot of information like web addresses (take a picture of the codes above) 
Benefits: Versatility, fault tolerance, numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary
Applications:   Retail, entertainment, marketing
Count: 7,089


Datamatrix Code

Stands for: Dots arranged in a square/rectangular pattern (matrix)
Purpose: Encode a lot of information on small items, goods, and documents
Benefits: Small footprint and readable in low resolution/unideal scanning positions
Applications:   Electronics, retail, government
Count: Numeric = 3116 Alphanumeric = 2335, Binary = 1556


PDF417

Stands for: Portable Data File
Purpose: Store huge amounts of data (photos, fingerprints, signatures)
Benefits: Versatility, fault tolerance, numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary
Applications:   Logistics, government
Count: Numeric = 1850, Digits = 2710, Bytes = 1108


Newer models of the 2nd Sight rugged handheld computer have built-in barcode readers that capture both 1D and 2D barcodes with a quick press of a button. In the reader configuration, a user can set the reader to register all common (and many uncommon) barcode types. Whether you print your own barcodes or purchase pre-printed barcodes, the first step is to determine if a 1D barcode will be able to hold all the required information. In many cases, a simple sting of numbers is enough to keep an item unique. We also recommend thinking of the proper material on which the barcode will be printed. In many cases, the barcode must be water-resistant, handle cold temperatures, and hold up to a bit of wear and tear.

 


 


FairPick Farm Harvest Scale

It is that time of year! Spring is in the air with brisk mornings and warm afternoons. More daylight is a welcomed change. FairPick’s are being wheeled out of storage… must be harvest time!

Days are getting busier as the fully vaccinated 2nd Sight team moves back to more “normal” life at the office. Once berry harvest in Florida and asparagus harvest in Washington begin, we keep busy until apples in the fall! For this post, I want to emphasize that change, like the welcomed change of the seasons, can be good, especially if it means less stress, shorter workdays, and happy workers. These are probably not words that come to mind when you think of harvest time. But maybe you could change that too. Do not let uncertainty or fear prevent you from moving your farm forward. Let’s talk about why you should pay by weight for your high value crop this harvest.

Paperless
Our slogan is “Ditch the Punch Cards”. Did you know that the cost of paper punch cards per employee for one harvest season is about the same as one RFID employee badge to log weights with the FairPick? Now imagine not having to count the punch cards at the end of the day. How many hours do you, your crew bosses, and your office staff spend performing this mundane task after an already long day of work? By using RFID employee badges and simple software, a lot of the work is done for you.

Accurate

Although a lug of cherries should contain 20 pounds of fruit, it is not often the case. When we first started field trials of the FairPick back in 2015, we ran the scale system alongside the grower’s punch card system. On average, a picker’s cherry lug would weigh 18.5 pounds when logged for credit. That is a lot of fruit that is being counted but not picked. If you pay by weight, a “full” picking bucket is not important. Workers understand that a full container saves them time because they can make fewer trips to the scale. Or, in some cases, the ability to weigh a half-filled bucket makes more sense. Regardless, exact weights registered electronically are key to an accurate system because guesswork is eliminated, and manual data entry is minimal.

Quiet Fields
From our customers, we learned that fields are quiet with the FairPick. Why? There is less arguing. A completely full bucket or lug is no longer a point to contest. Using a scale to register produce picked results in less fighting and favoritism between field bosses and pickers. A fair system results in happier workers. We have heard stories of pickers who moved from a neighboring farm to pick for a grower with FairPick scales. The added ability to print and take home receipts from all of our farm labor tracking systems is another bonus that improves transparency and builds trust.

Simple

Our goal is to design systems that minimize the learning curve. One challenge for the grower is using a system for a few months out of the year, then putting them away after harvest. We offer systems that allow you to track year-round, but during the intense harvest time if something is not easy to use the data collected is likely to be incorrect, or employees will refuse to use it at all. Designing simple hardware and software takes time and feedback from the people who use them the most. Our best software features and updates come from our customers.

Clean Bins
Another benefit of paying pickers by weight is clean bins. We continue to hear that cherry bins are “clean” (without many leaves) once they switched to the FairPick harvest scale. Leaves are not heavy but take up space in a lug. Workers soon find it is beneficial to clear more of this debris out before weighing. Also, the checker can focus on fruit quality and bin cleaning now that punching tickets is no longer required. The FairPick requires minimal supervision out in the field or orchard so that a checker can pay closer attention to what is being put into the bins or flats, not how much is being logged.

Still concerned about switching to a pay by weight system this harvest? We offer other options to track piecework electronically. However, if you are growing a high value specialty crop, the FairPick offers a simple and streamlined solution. The cost savings of improved payroll accuracy can often pay for one scale in only one harvest season. This quick ROI combined with these other benefits should help you take the next step to change your harvest process for the better.

 


 


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509-381-2112 | info@2ndsightbio.com
© 2021 2nd Sight BioScience. All rights reserved.
509-381-2112 | info@2ndsightbio.com
© 2021 2nd Sight BioScience. All rights reserved.