A German developer said its cannabis flower stripper can drastically reduce costs compared to traditional hand harvesting, after a full season in European fields in 2020.
HHH Hemp Harvesting Technology, Burgdorf, Germany, said cost analysis of field work in Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg this past autumn showed the company’s HHH 700 model reduced labor costs by 73%, and trimmed work staff from 15 to only 4 workers required to run the harvester in “semi-stationary” operation. The data is based on a system in which workers collect and then hand feed bushy plant stalks into the harvester’s stripper mechanism as a tractor moves the unit from one spot to the next in the field.
Highly flexible, the HHH 700 can also operate stationary in farm buildings for indoor and greenhouse growers, and can collect flowers from conventionally planted, straight-stem industrial hemp varieties while running through the field continuously.
The machine gently detaches cannabis flowers from the stalk and stems by a patented stripping mechanism. The flowers can be collected in a bag or container. In field operation mode for harvesting traditional hemp plants, the hemp stalks are left in the field for retting. Depending on plant maturity at the time of harvesting, it’s also possible to shake out the seeds.
“With industrial hemp we were like 20 times faster than hand harvesting,” developer Heinrich Wieker said of the technology’s performance running through hemp fields last autumn. “With the bushy plants, it’s 12 times faster” than picking the plants by hand, said Wieker, who estimates the HHH reduces the time required for harvesting one bushy cannabis plant — hemp or mariujuana buds — from 3 to 5 minutes to roughly 30 to 50 seconds.
Ready for U.S. market
After starting manufacturing and construction of the HHH-700 with a focus on the European market in the first year, the company is ready to address demand that has developed in the USA in 2021, Wieker said. He’s now searching for a manufacturing partner in North America, and an investor to execute the company’s strategy for expansion this year and beyond. With current European orders in hand, Wieker said manufacturing capacity means the company can build only four additional machines before the 2021 harvest season.
Designed to be efficient for conventionally planted hemp and marijuana grows as small as 5 hectares (12.3 acres), the standard single-unit HHH can harvest up to 2 hectares (4.95 acres) per day in industrial hemp and 0.5 to 1 hectares (1.25 to 2.5 acres) in bushy crops. But the harvesting ensemble is modular, expandable up to three units that proportionally increase the harvest area. Prices range from about €42,000 ($49,000) for a single unit with a cutting width of 70 cm (~28 inches) up to about €99,000 (~$120,000) for a three-unit ensemble that takes a field cut of 210 cm (~6 ft). Total weight of each harvesting unit is about 400 kilograms (~800 lbs.).
“Existing flower harvesters weigh 18 tons, cost more than €600,000, consume enormous amounts of fuel and are difficult to transport over longer distances,” said Wieker, who worked closely with manufacturing partner Eilhauer, a German specialized machine maker, in bringing the harvester to life.
4 years in development
Four years in research, development and production, the HHH-700 has an aluminum frame and rollers for weight reduction, and stainless steel components such as chains and other flower-contacting parts for pharmacy- and food-grade yields.
Wieker, an engineer, started developing the machine after observing the laborious process of hand harvesting hemp flowers during a visit to the Czech Republic in 2015. That visit left him not only “fascinated with the possibilities of hemp” – but with the realization that expansion of the cannabis flower sectors is inhibited by the lack of a suitable harvester for small and medium size hemp farms, and the need to move beyond hand-harvesting to more economically viable harvesting methods.
The HHHarvester was named winner of the European Industrial Hemp Association’s “Hemp Product of the Year” competition in June 2020.