Dec 20, 2010
Pickle harvesters popular down South

Michigan pickle growers traditionally have used mechanical harvesters, but they’ve become popular in Southern states as well, where tightening immigration laws have taken a toll on hand labor, said Jeff Behmlander, co-owner of Ike’s Welding & Manufacturing, a Munger, Mich., manufacturer and dealer of agricultural equipment.

In the early 2000s, Ike’s started designing and building its own pickle harvesters – modifying designs taken from potato harvesters. The first build, in the field by 2002, was a joint effort with Jerry’s Welding in Ravenna, Mich. Ike’s started improving the design the next year, and by 2004 the company was building machines on its own, Behmlander said.

The harvesters are custom-built around the customer’s tractor or self-propelled power unit. They can cover four rows to 10 rows. The company builds three to five per season; 25 or so have been sold, many to growers in North Carolina, Alabama, Texas and Delaware. They cost between $170,000 and $300,000, depending on their size, he said.

Behmlander gave a brief description of how the harvesters work: A vibrating blade in front of the machine cuts the plant off beneath the ground, and the patented pick-up head picks the plant up. Dirt is washed off the pickles, loose vines are removed and any oversize pickles are dumped back on the ground. The finished product is guided into a hopper and loaded onto trucks that drive alongside the harvester.

Ike’s Welding & Manufacturing has been around for more than half a century, when Ike Bowman, a potato farmer, started repairing equipment. Behmlander, now 52, started working for Ike’s when he was in high school and slowly worked his way up, learning to weld, assemble equipment and whatever else needed to be done.

Ike died nearly two decades ago, and his wife took over the business for a few years. Behmlander and two of Ike’s sons, Randy and Roger Bowman, eventually bought the company. The three of them are now partners, Behmlander said.

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Matt Milkovich

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