Machinery and Equipment Guide

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Machinery and equipment required for elderberry production will vary depending on a grower’s operation size, marketing model and individual preferences. The following discussion describes basic machinery and equipment needs for producing elderberries, and it approximates costs incurred from operating machinery involved in the process. Growers may operate owned equipment or engage a custom service provider depending on their access to equipment, expertise, time available and machinery costs. Alternatively, cooperatives may jointly own elderberry production equipment and share it among members to minimize individual capital needs.

Machinery and Equipment Needs

Machinery and equipment needs for elderberry growers will evolve based on plant maturity, and depending on the task, producers may prefer to use hand labor instead of mechanized equipment. The following table lists typical equipment and machinery that growers may use during elderberry establishment and production. In addition to these basic machinery needs, the following narrative describes other equipment possibilities for elderberry growers. Experienced farmers may already own machinery and equipment that would fit well with elderberry production. As an example, grape production equipment can work for growing and raising elderberries.

During establishment, growers use machinery and equipment to prepare the planting site and plant the elderberry plants. Preparing the planting site may involve applying herbicide and disking. Herbicide application or regular cultivation can help with controlling bermudagrass, Johnsongrass and other perennial weeds before planting. If producers have grown a cover crop before planting elderberries, then they may kill the cover crop and avoid applying herbicides by using a roller-crimper. Forming raised berms would improve the planting site in areas prone to drainage issues.

Producers may start elderberry bushes from seeds, cuttings, suckers, bare-rooted plants or nursery stock. Hand labor is one option for planting. For producers who desire a mechanized option, however, they may consider a water wheel planter if they’re planting cuttings. A water wheel planter doesn’t work for bare elderberry rootstock. To make elderberry growing areas easier to navigate after rain, elderberry producers may plant grasses between rows of elderberry bushes. Thus, planting operations will include planting the elderberry bushes themselves and the inter-row ground cover. After planting, producers may apply mulch to preserve soil moisture levels and protect from weed pressure. They can choose from organic or plastic mulch. To lay plastic mulch, growers could use a plastic mulch layer.

Elderberry management involves pruning while the bushes are dormant. When pruning elderberries, producers may choose from using traditional methods, which involve hand pruning to remove old, dead, diseased or damaged branches, or they may mechanically remove all stems on an elderberry plant with a sickle-bar cutter. Because elderberries don’t tolerate drought, producing them may require an irrigation system. They also have shallow root systems, which can increase the need for irrigation, especially during the first year. Weekly, elderberry plants need 1 inch to 2 inches of water to perform best. Trickle or drip irrigation systems are options available to growers. Commonly, elderberry irrigation systems have 0.5-inch plastic lines and inline emitters positioned every 18 inches to 24 inches. To manage weeds, elderberry producers may use shallow cultivation, and to prevent the grass strips between rows from spreading into the elderberry rows, producers may use herbicide application or cultivation. If using cultivation, then it should be shallow enough that it doesn’t disturb elderberry plants’ root systems. The Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative recommends a single-row hydra weeder as equipment that can remove weeds in an open planting area, not one covered in plastic mulch. Weed control strategies could also include weeding by hand, applying adequate mulch in elderberry growing areas and mowing. Fertilizing elderberries is another management practice need.

For harvesting elderberry flowers, producers may clip elderberry stems and rub the cymes against a screen. For harvesting elderberry berries, Missouri growers use manual labor. To harvest elderberries by hand, clip elderberry clusters after the berries ripen. Elderberry farms that offer a pick-your-own experience will rely heavily on consumers picking fresh berries. After harvest, producers have the option to destem elderberries. Producers have an incentive to destem the berries because stemless berries usually carry a premium. Removing berries from stems is difficult, however, as fresh berries can tear, which could lead to reduced juice yield. Freezing the berry clusters can help with removing berries from stems. After freezing the berries, producers may remove them by hand shattering, or they may use a fruit destemmer.

If storing elderberries instead of using them immediately, elderberry producers should freeze the berries. Elderberry growers who choose value-added product marketing will need additional equipment to process the elderberries and prepare final value-added goods. Such equipment needs may include a press and crusher. Processing elderberries into final goods would also require dedicated facility space.

Equipment and Machinery Needs for Elderberry Production

Establishment

Production

Tractor X
Disk X
Sprayer X X
Broadcast seeder X
Fertilizer spreader X X
Irrigation system X X
Sickle-bar cutter X
Mower X
Freezer X
Destemmer X

 

Owned and Operated Equipment or Custom Hire Services

Machinery and equipment size and capacity needs will depend on operation scale and influence the related operating or custom hire expenses. The following table compares projected costs for two scenarios. In the first, a grower owns and operates equipment. In the second, a grower hires a custom service provider to carry out equipment-related work. The machinery costs are meant to represent total costs incurred for operating equipment used in elderberry production.

Estimated Machinery Costs and Custom Rates, Per Pass Per Acre

Machinery

Cost

Custom

Rate

Disk $14.60 $15.80
Sprayer $3.70 $5.98
Broadcast seeder $6.90 $12.30
Fertilizer side dresser $12.25
Irrigation system* $241.00
Sickle-bar cutter $17.60 $9.40
Mower $23.60 $16.38
Freezer** $375.00
Destemmer

* Cost per acre, not cost per pass per acre per year

** Cost per month

Sources

Byers, Patrick L., Andrew L. Thomas, Michael A. Gold, Mihaela M. Cernusca and Larry D. Godsey. 2014. Growing and Marketing Elderberries in Missouri. University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. Columbia, MO 65211.

Carroll, Becky. 2014. Growing Elderberries in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Stillwater, OK 74078.

Cernusca, Mihaela, Michael Gold and Larry Godsey. 2011. Elderberry Market Research. University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. Columbia, MO 65211.

Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. 2012. Machinery Cost Estimates: Summary. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Urbana, IL 61801.

Department of Agricultural Economics. 2010. Blueberry 2010 Fruit and Nut Planning Budgets. Mississippi State University. Mississippi State, MS 39762.

Department of Horticulture. 2013. Minor Fruits Elderberries. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY 14850.

Godsey, Larry. 2011. Elderberry Financial Decision Support Tool. University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. Columbia, MO 65211.

McKay, Steve. 2001. Demand Increasing for Aronia and Elderberry in North America. New York Fruit Quarterly. Geneva, NY 14456-0462.

Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative. 2015. Shared Equipment Program. Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative.

Plain, Ronald L. and Joyce White. 2016. 2016 Custom Rates for Farm Services in Missouri. University of Missouri Extension. Columbia, MO 65211.

Plastina, Alejandro, Ann Johanns and Sally Weets. 2015. 2015 Iowa Farm Custom Rate Survey. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Ames, IA 50011-2031.

Strang, John. 2012. Elderberry. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Lexington, KY 40546-0091.