The Challenge of the Broomcorn Harvesting Machine

 

“No machine has yet been invented to successfully replace the hand labor.  The men, using broomcorn knives with sharp five-inch knives, move down rows in a field, bending the heads or brush with one hand and cutting the stalk about six inches below the bottom part of the brush with the other hand. “

-Pueblo (CO) Chieftain October 25, 1971

Many words have been spoken about the inability to automate broomcorn harvesting,  but not as much about the attempt to automate.  Disruptive technology such as the vacuum cleaner, the development of the plastic broom certainly contributed to the demise of the U.S. broomcorn industry.   Labor shortages and the inability to create a machine which could harvest the inconsistent heights of the broomcorn plant in the field certainly contributed to this demise as well.   The picture below shows Lon Kerr standing in his broomcorn field in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s.  I want to show this picture as it offers not only some perspective on the varying heights of the individual plants, but also as a bonus (that is correct no extra charge) because Lon was my Little League baseball coach.  

Lon Kerr standing in broomcorn field

Photo Courtesy of Lonnie Kerr.

 

It wasn’t as though efforts were not made to solve this dilemma.  Dr. Sam Moyer told me in a fall 2016 conversation that  since 1862 there have been many patents for broomcorn “harvesters”. They were detailed engineering ideas designed to cut, and usually partially process, the normally tall plants. It is generally not known if most of these were actually made or if they worked.   Starting with the information above and Dr. Moyer’s list I decided to dig into this topic and see what else I could find.  With the power of the Google patent archive I found many additional broomcorn harvesting inventions which include harvesters, seeders, balers and sizers which date back to 1851. In fact between 1851 and 1995 there were at least 75 patents for broomcorn harvesting machines.  I also stumbled upon several addition broomcorn knives to add to my broomcorn post about broomcorn knife patents.   I decided to categorize these inventions first as the ones that originated in or near where I grew up in Baca County Colorado, broomcorn knives, harvesting machines, patents outside the U.S. and Sizers/Eveners and Balers/Bundlers.     

Four of these harvesting machines have Baca County Colorado origins.   One of the sizers has a Lamar CO orign.  Lamar is just north of Baca County in Southeast Colorado.

1648749 Nov 8, 1927.  Broom corn harvesting machine.  Sivert Udstad of Aurora IL and William Owens of Lycan, CO.

Broom corn harvesting machine. Sivert Udstad of Aurora IL and William Owens of Lycan, CO.

Broom corn harvesting machine. Sivert Udstad of Aurora IL and William Owens of Lycan, CO.

2535884 Dec 26, 1950.    Broom corn cutter.  Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO

Broom corn cutter. Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO
Broom corn cutter. Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO

Broom corn cutter. Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO

Broom corn cutter. Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO

 

Broom corn cutter. Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO

2699030 Jan 1955. Method for harvesting broom corn and the like.  Harve Adamson Holly CO assignor of 1/2 to Roy Haney, Walsh CO

Method for harvesting broom corn and the like. Harve Adamson Holly CO assignor of 1/2 to Roy Haney, Walsh CO

Method for harvesting broom corn and the like. Harve Adamson Holly CO assignor of 1/2 to Roy Haney, Walsh CO
Method for harvesting broom corn and the like. Harve Adamson Holly CO assignor of 1/2 to Roy Haney, Walsh CO

 

3508557  April 1970. Process and apparatus for harvesting broomcorn.  Le Roy Sunday of Springfield CO.

Process and apparatus for harvesting broomcorn. Le Roy Sunday of Springfield CO.

Process and apparatus for harvesting broomcorn. Le Roy Sunday of Springfield CO.

Later in this article we will provide the patent information for a multitude of patents related to efforts to automate the broomcorn industry. Below I am noting a fifth Southeast Colorado patent from the Lamar area for a sorting and sizing machine.  

870280  November 5, 1907.  Broom-corn-fiber sorting and sizing machine.  Richard D. Gallagher Sr of Lamar CO  

There was at least one of the Baca County machines built. My cousin Bill (Brooks) say he remembers that south of Vilas CO, that Adolph Hutches decided to irrigate 60 acres of broomcorn which the Le Roy Sunday machine was tried out. The ultimate problem as you well know was the inconsistent height of the broomcorn and although the dwarf they were growing was somewhat more consistent in height there was still enough variation that it was a mess. Sometimes it was OK and sometimes it got the brush. They tweaked and tweaked but never got it.

Jake Huffman tells us when he was working at the Bunge Elevator in Springfield, Ralph Woods would come over and tell stories.  He showed them an unfinished broomcorn harvester that sat on the lot between the office and his shop along with a lot of other scrap iron drilling equipment, trucks trailers and pipe.  He believes it was cleaned up and hauled off in the late 1980’s

More broomcorn knives

Since I have previously written a post about broomcorn knives I decided to list those first.  I will add this to the broomcorn post as well.  Although none have Baca County origins, there is one which comes from Boise City OK in Cimarron County which borders Baca County to the south.  

1339282 May 4, 1920 Cutter for broom-corn, maize, and the like. NOTE: This is a hand cutter as shown in image below. John E Pelnar of Deerfield KS

Cutter for broom-corn, maize, and the like. NOTE: This is a hand cutter as shown in image below. John E Pelnar of Deerfield KS

155831 January 23, 1974.  Improvement in Knives for Splitting Broom-corn Frederick Gerling & William Broderick of Cleveland OH.

Improvement in Knives for Splitting Broom-corn Frederick Gerling & William Broderick of Cleveland OH.

700058  May 13, 1902  Broomcorn knife.  Gustaf Arvid Larson

John Emil Johnson  of Wilcox NE  

Broomcorn knife. Gustaf Arvid Larson John Emil Johnson of Wilcox NE

1586396 May 5, 1925.  Broomcorn knife.  Homer E. Bellomy of Boise City OK.  

Broomcorn knife. Homer E. Bellomy of Boise City OK.

687342 November 26, 1901. Knife for cutting broom-corn or the like.   William Salter of Hardesty, Oklahoma Territory.  

November 26, 1901. Knife for cutting broom-corn or the like. William Salter of Hardesty, Oklahoma Territory.

998118 July 18, 1911.  Knife for cutting broom-corn.  Emil A. Peterson of Falun KS.

Knife for cutting broom-corn. Emil A. Peterson of Falun KS.

Broomcorn Harvesting Machines

 

At few of the machines listed qualify only as a reaper because they just cut stalks. They were  detailed engineering ideas designed to cut, and usually partially process, the normally tall plants.  Again thanks to the Google patent archive I have been able to break out many different machines which have proposed to harvest and/or partially process broomcorn.  

Also included are 3 Chinese patents, 1 Russian patent and a U.S. patent developed in Italy.  The last item on this list has a detailed discussion of the pros and cons as described in correspondence with Dr. Moyer.

8375 September 23, 1851.  Improvement in machines for stripping seed from Broomcorn.  L.D. Grosvenor of South Groton MA.

14596 April 8, 1856.  Machine for combing seed off broom-corn.  George E. Burt of Harvard MA.

36668 October 14, 1862. Improvement in harvesters for broom-corn cut broomcorn at any desired height and deposit on the ground,  Joel Norton Wilton IL.

35214  May 13, 1862.   Improved machine for breaking broomcorn.  Charles Campbell, of Yellow  Head IL.

Improved machine for breaking broomcorn. Charles Campbell, of Yellow Head IL.

53126 March 13, 1866.   Improvement in broom-corn and sorghum strippers.  Knowis W. Dounda of Milwood Township Ohio.

68346  September 3, 1867.  Broom Corn Seeder.  James D. Brown of Preble County OH

131718  September 24, 1872.  Improvement in machines for stripping broom-corn.  John B. Stine of Rohersville Maryland.

131138  September 3, 1872.  Improvement in machines for cutting and separating broomcorn.  Alphonso Walrath and John Snell of Fort Plain NY.

158638 Jan 12, 1875. Improvement in broom corn harvesters and

Thrashers  Robert Hinton, Clinton MO

165458 July 13, 1875.  Improvement in broom-corn-sizing machines.  Alphonso Walrath of Fort Plain, Assignor to E.D. Bronson & Co. of Amsterdam NY

212454   February 18, 1879.   Improvement in broom-corn-tablers.   George W. Foulger of Charlson IL, assignor of 1/4 is right to F. M. Parker.

306193 October 7, 1884.  Broom-corn stripper.  Richard R. Truesdell of Sterling KS.

354622 December 21, 1886.  Broomcorn Tabler.  William M. Bowman and Lewis N. Bowman of Lincoln MO

362511 May 10, 1887. Broom-corn harvester.  Charles Huckleberry & Frederick Reese, Paris IL.

367957 August 9, 1887.  Machine for cutting broom-corn.  George Eramus Burkholder of Morantown KS.

413883  October 29, 1889.  Broom-corn Combing Machine.  Abraham Anderson of Galesburg IL assignor to G.D. Colton & Company of the Same Place.

434069 Aug 12, 1890. Broomcorn seed stripper, Henry Poole Battle Hill KS assignor of 1/3 to John H Prescott of Salina KS.  

Broomcorn seed stripper, Henry Poole Battle Hill KS assignor of 1/3 to John H Prescott of Salina KS.

434070 August 12, 1890.   Broom -corn harvester. Henry Poole Battle Hill KS assignor of 1/3 to John H Prescott of Salina KS.  

485711  November 8, 1892.  Broom-corn Harvester.  George W. Peterson of Leonardville, KS.

488251 December 20, 1892.  Broom-corn cleaner. Frederick W. Reese of Paris IL.

511494 December 26, 1893.  Broom-corn sizing machine. Monroe Basset of Union City PA

515549 Feb. 27, 1894 Harvester (broomcorn+ others).  George Miller   Eureka Springs AR  Assignor of One Half to Benjamin J. Roswater of the same place.

517761 April 4, 1894.  Broom corn sizing machine.  George F. McCombs of Allegheny, assignor to the Hand Stitch Broom Sewing Machine company of Pittsburg PA

545619 September 3, 1895.   Machine for separating broom-corn. Alphonso Walrath of Fort Plain NY

328248 October 13, 1885.  Machine for tabling broom-corn.  Francis M. Parker of Charleston IL.

584499 June 15, 1897.  Broom-corn-sizing machine.  Joseph M. Gaffney and Jacob J. Fischer of San Francisco CA  

580673 April 13, 1897.  Broom-corn cleaner.  Frederick W. Reese of Paris IL.

520568 May 29, 1894. Machine for Removing Stems from Broom Corn  Phillip Lamboy of Fonda NY.  

646612 April 3, 1900. Broom-corn harvester.  James Steven Vaughn, Allenville, IL  Assignor of 2/3 to Albert R. Cox and John Ridgeway of same place.

679753  August 6, 1901.  Broom-corn Harvester.  Marion Ingels of Leanna KS.

670052  March 19, 1903.   Broom-corn Harvester.  Arnold Kobelt of Lowry City MO

716440 December 23, 1902,  Broom-corn Harvester.  Joseph E. Larson of Silvercreek, Nebraska.

729971 Jun 2, 1903. Machine for harvesting broom-corn.  Lark Athen Sproul of Edmond KS.

735805 Aug 11, 1903. Broom-corn harvester.  John Wesley Peifer, of Sullivan IL, Assignor of 2/3 to James H. Thomas and William S. Skiff of Shelby County, Illinois.

762326 June 6, 1904.  Broom corn combing machine.  Samuel C.  Lehman of Galena KS.

767775 August 16, 1904.  Broom-corn Harvester.  Frank Sutton of Matoon IL.

815018  March 3, 1906 Broom-corn-cutting machine.  Charles R. Huckleberry of Paris IL.

833064 October 9, 1906. Broom-corn harvester.  Joseph E. Larson of Silvercreek, Nebraska.

793801 July 4, 1905 Broom-corn or corn harvester.  George Palladay, Allerton IA.

851202 April 23, 1907.  Machine for combing broom-corn.  Charles K. Miller of Alva Oklahoma Territory

869064 Oct 22, 1907. Broom-corn harvesting machine. Burten Curl and Herbert Jefferson Huddleston, Rose Hill, IL.

890386 June 9, 1908. Broom-corn breaker and tabler.   William E. Welch of Matoon IL.

911754 February 1909, Harvester (topper of seed heads) cutting mechanism which can be raised or lowered to suit the height of the stalks; delivered to a wagon box.  AJ Parton, Big Spring Texas, Assignor of 1/2 to J.W. McCutchan, of Big Spring Texas.

930438 August 10, 1909.  Broom-corn header.  Harry L. Tonkinson of Gable OK.

944178 December 21, 1909.  Broom-corn Seeder.  John W. Courtney and John C. Porter of Ringwood OK.

 Broom-corn Seeder. John W. Courtney and John C. Porter of Ringwood OK.

964522 July 19, 1910, Broom-corn Harvesting Device.   William W. Jordan of Wynnewood OK, assignor of 1/2 to Nannie V. Frost of Wynnewood OK.

1034044  Jul 30, 1912, Broom-corn harvester.  Benjamin Titus of Tellville VA.

1036030 Aug 20, 1912, Broom-corn booter. Benjamin Titus of Tellville VA.

1064617 Jun 10, 1913, Broom-corn Cleaning machine.  Emuel Cory of Colfax, IN.

1077863 Nov 4, 1913, Broom corn harvester, Henry S. Thomas of Fargo OK.

1116107 Nov 3, 1914, machine for harvesting broom-corn and the like,  George H. Pallady of Allerton IA.

1149281 August 1915, Broom-corn seeding. George H. Pallady of Allerton IA.

1145919 July 7, 2013  Heading machine (multi crop tool).  Robert A. Porter of Sharon KS.

1178294 April 4, 1916  Broom-corn cleaner.   Charles Edmund Brown of Moundville WV.

1265846  May 14, 1918,  Broom-corn seeding and sorting machine.  August F. Weymer of Syracuse NY , assignor to the A. F. Weymer Co. of Syracuse NY and American Broom and Brush CO. of Amsterdam NY, both corporations of New York.

1266835  May 21, 1918,  Broom-corn seeder and engine.  William H. Lynch of Clayton NM

1339282 May 4, 1920.  Cutter for broom-corn, maize, and the like. NOTE: This is a hand cutter as shown in image below.     John E Pelnar of Deerfield KS.

1267019 May 21, 1918.  Broom-corn Tabler.  Martin Luther Wade of Marlow OK.

1396331 November 8, 1921.  Broom-corn Tabling Machine.  Theodore K. Ladd of Valley Mills TX.

1419262 June 13, 1922.  Broom-corn breaker and tabler.  Paul K. Jenkins of Maysville OK.

Broom-corn breaker and tabler. Paul K. Jenkins of Maysville OK. 

 

1438192  December 12, 1922  Broom Corn Cleaning Machine.  John B. Smith of Galesburg IL, assignor to Shaw-Welsh & Company of Galesburg IL, A corporation of IL.  

1544450 Jun 30, 1925. Broom-corn tabler.  Edward Hale of Minco OK.

1591675 Jul 6, 1926.  Broom-corn harvester.  Frank Fullerton of Tuscola, IL.

1615981  Feb. 1, 1927. Broomcorn harvester and cleaner.  William Arter James of Hugoton KS.

1639055 Aug 16, 1927. Broomcorn harvester.   Roy G. Patterson, of Hugoton KS, Assignor of 25% to M.R. Stewart of Wilburton KS and 24% to Floyd Beaty of Hutchinson KS.  

1648749 Nov 8, 1927.  Broom corn harvesting machine.  Sivert Udstad of Aurora IL and William Owens of Lycan, CO.  

1781961 Nov 18,1930. Broomcorn harvester.  Augustus Smith of Denver CO.  Assignor to Catherine Teresa Daly and Mary Barbara Daly, both of Billings Montana.

2535884  Dec 26, 1950.    Broom corn cutter.  Woods Ralph R. of Springfield CO.

2599143 Jun 3, 1952. Broomcorn harvester.  Frank H. Thompson of Rolla KS.

2699030 Jan 1955. Method for harvesting broom corn and the like.  Harve Adamson Holly CO assignor of 1/2 to Roy Haney, Walsh CO.

2958174 November 1, 1960. Broom head harvesting machine.  Robert R. Lawson of Beeville TX.

3355217  November 28, 1966.  Broomcorn separating device.   Socorro Lopez Phoenix AZ   

3508557  April 1970. Process and apparatus for harvesting broomcorn.  Le Roy Sunday of Springfield CO.

US3979888 Sept 9, 1976.  A machine for cutting the tops of plants into predetermined uniform lengths.   Adriano Peruzzo,  Curtano Italy.

5379579  January 10, 1995. Method for harvesting broom corn and apparatus therefore.  Thomas F Monohan Jr.  Arcola IL.

This machine is designed to make “hurl” (loose fibers) broomcorn in the field, before drying. First a corn binder cut the plants and made bundles. Then a human bumped the tips evenly and fed it into the prototype. Seeds were scraped off and knuckle and boot were scraped from fibers. Did not require handling each knuckle, fed 3-4″ thick through machine. Did 1000 lbs wet per hr. in Mexico. Fibers dried in open air in 12 hours. They were then sorted by machine, a “selector” (for example Patent number: 870280)  The images below show this machine.  

Unpatented efforts to make broomcorn harvesting machines

Sam Moyer tells us that Carlos Petzold http://www.bodam.com/aboutus.htm shared his recollection of his father’s involvement in making a broomcorn harvester, not patented. (see text from his email below) A photo of it was on the Dec 26, 1981 cover of BROOM BRUSH AND MOP. It was ahead of its time, but it too was ultimately scrapped.  Carlos recalls in his email to Dr. Moyer:  

To give you a bit of history, this is what I can remember…Dal Maschio, working with my father and a customer in Honduras, planted a bunch of broomcorn in San Pedro Sula Honduras where the weather is “tropical” and so they usually get 3 plantings per year. Dal Maschio made a few versions of the Harvester with the desire to do the following tasks:

  1. Harvest broomcorn 1 row at a time.
  2. Remove the seeds from the broomcorn plant.
  3. Cut the broomcorn at one given height.
  4. Gather up the cut broomcorn into “bundles” and automatically tie them off with twine and dump them into a cart pulled behind the harvester.

The harvester could be raised and lowered accordingly to the “given height” for the crop. The harvester was able to “collect the seeds”.
The harvester was able to cut and “bind” the broomcorn. The harvester was made to be able to connect to any tractor and get its power from the tractor.

All of the above worked fine.

So, why didn’t it sell? Price? No, this was not a problem as it would pay for itself in one harvest.

The problems were:

  • Milky seeds at harvesting were difficult to remove “thoroughly” so, further “scraping” was needed so no process/money savings was realized since all the broomcorn needed to be “scrapped” Again.
  • Cutting at one specific height, you cut lower to be sure you did not cut through a “knuckle”. This left the “boot” on the broomcorn which could not be removed by “machine” and had to be removed by hand. So, once again, no process/money savings.
  • Also, because you cut at “one height”, you had too much stalk left on the plant. Well, that would automatically be cut off by the broomcorn selector once you put it in for “hurl” selection.

Yes, but what about the “insides” (broomcorn with stalk)? Well, Dal Maschio made an “insides selector” as well. Nobody wanted to pay the money for an “insides selector” as they could select and cut with a simple device, the broomcorn “insides” by hand.

In the end, because the entire process did not have significant reductions in the process, labor and cost, it did not work.

Later varieties of broomcorn were to be developed to resolve the following matters:

  • Even height for harvesting
  • Grow out of the “boot”

Well, frankly speaking, these varieties never got “even” enough and growing out of the boot then caused “crooks” as the boot is what supports the heavy plant filled with seeds.

The process worked fine in Hungary and Yugoslavia where they allow the seeds to mature to 120 days so they are hard (not milky) and hence, easier to remove.

Carlos R. Petzold
President

Bodam International LTD.
903 Cirelli Court
Aberdeen, MD 21001
USA
www.bodam.com/

 

Petzold Broomcorn Harvester Petzold Broomcorn Harvester
 Petzold Broomcorn Harvester Petzold Broomcorn Harvester

 

Patents outside the United States

China

CN201441926 April 28, 2010.  The utility model discloses a broomcorn hulling and sieving machine.

CN201617020  November 3,  2010.  The utility model relates to a broomcorn harvester, which comprises a small four-wheel tractor. A reaping device, a conveying device and a threshing device are disposed on the small four-wheel tractor.

CN2040471  December 31, 2014  Walking type directional stalk cutting machine.

Russia

RU2447642  April 4, 1920.  Industrial crops Harvester.

Sizers/ Eveners  

982914 January 31, 1911.  Broom-corn Holder.  James R. Douglas of Bentonville AR.

Broom-corn Holder. James R. Douglas of Bentonville AR

33968 December 17, 1861.  Improved machine for sizing broom-corn.  O.M. Truair of Mount Morris, NY.

319859  June 6, 1885.  Broom-corn sizer.  George Smith of Buffalo NY.  

348677 September 7, 1886.  Broom-corn sizing machine.  Jesse. S. Lake of Pleasantville, NJ.

870280  November 5, 1907.  Broom-corn-fiber sorting and sizing machine.  Richard D. Gallagher Sr of Lamar CO

1076025 October 21, 1913.  Machine for evening broom-corn.  Harry H. Curtis of Paris IL.   

1337056 April 13, 1920 Combined (Broomcorn) evener and cutter.  George W. Duvall, Nomran H. Beebe and Harry E. Smith of Davenport IA, assignors to Modern Broom Machinery Company of Davenport IA, A Corporation of IA.

1344332 June 6, 1922.  Scraping attachment for broom-corn sizing machines.  William M Christopher of Amsterdam NY assignor to Pioneer Broom Company of Amsterdam NY.

Balers/Bundlers

77939 February 4, 1907. Machine for baling broom-corn.  Charles K. Miller of Seiling OK

869358  October 29, 1907.  Machine for bundling or compressing broom-corn. James Foley of Chicago IL.

877939 February 4, 1908.  Machine for baling broom-corn.  Charles K. Miller of Seiling OK.

1052944 February 11, 1913.  Corn baler.  Fred Osborn of Fort Cobb OK.

958866  May 5, 1924.  Machine for bundling or compressing broom-corn and the like. James Foley of Chicago IL

 

Other interesting/ related patents:

849804  April 9, 1907.  Broom-corn saw machine.  Albert J. Middleton of Indianapolis IN

2211737 August 13, 1940. Explosive.  Earl Berkley  Western Cartridge Co.   

925615 June 22, 1909.  Machine for removing stems from broom-corn. William H. Van Sickler Jr. of Amsterdam NY.

7694501B1 April 13, 2010  Seed gathering device for use by an agricultural harvester.  Deere and Co.

Recent Efforts

In a recent post I mentioned the work of Dr. Sam Moyer.  Dr. Moyer has done quite a bit of work towards bringing a cottage broomcorn industry back to the United States. The work primarily revolves around producing a seedless and harvestable varieties with less work being done on the development of a machine.  Much of the work was done in conjunction with Dr. Henry Hadley who worked at the University of Illinois / Urbana.   I have permission to repost his writings and will do so in a series of posts.  I will also share any other golden broomcorn nuggets I pick up.  I am sure there will be additional info later but let’s get started with the first installment  which was published in the Broom Makers News in 2007…

All varieties I used this year were dwarf (less than 5′ including the brush; same as dwarf grain sorghum with a brush instead of a head). For the first time since I began collaboration with Dr. Hadley in 1983, all varieties developed multiple brush colors when fully mature.  80 varieties that I developed grew with some difficult weed competition. None have center stems. 37 varieties had too few observations so they will be repeated next year for further evaluation. I saved 6 seed heads from each of the 43 varieties and mixed the seed into two gene pools: 31 varieties with a top leaf near the knuckle and long peduncles for machine harvest; 12 varieties with a top leaf covering too much brush or short peduncles. Samples of these two gene pools will be sent to Univ, IL/Urbana for another performance evaluation. Dr Moyer does provide FREE seed samples from the machine harvestable gene pool are available with a self-addressed stamped envelope on the condition that you do a performance report.   

I produced backcross “hybrid” seed from all 4 generations in the cycle starting with “female” grain sorghum. I will maintain a colorful long variety as a pollinator. Intermediate hybrids make beautiful wreaths and can be used loose for dry flower arrangements. Hybrids are better and more colorful than the varieties but degenerate in about 2 generations.  FREE seed samples of “2nd choice’ advanced hybrids are available to new growers with a  self-addressed stamped envelope. Larger samples are available to experienced growers of decorative broomcorn.  Experienced growers for brooms get 1st choice.

One of the key differences in the new harvestable variety Dr. Moyer now has is in the coloring.  See picture below:

Dr Moyers Brooms

I asked Dr. Moyer what makes the varieties he and Dr. Hadley have worked on machine harvestable as ultimately the historical challenge  for machine harvesting has been in the plants growing at varying heights.   He provided the following:

There are at least three answers outside of the normal growing conditions, spacing, rainfall, temperature, soil etc.   They are as follows

  1.  It is fairly uniformly dwarf. I was thrilled last summer for about he first time to walk thru part of my field with most seed heads about waist high.
  2. The top leaf and the sheath/”boot” that holds it does not cover much of the brush for easy drying (Dr. Hadley said “exserted”, the opposite of “inserted” where the much brush is in the boot) I made a point of harvesting last Fall by cutting with an antique corn knife (similar to machete, only concave) without pulling off leaves. The leaves pulled off easily after drying while sizing. Was pleased that very few brush did not dry properly. (By the way, the boots are beautiful/colorful; I use them for “handles” of whisk brooms). PROBLEM: IF there is a heavy rain storm when the seed head has just emerged, a small % crook over due to lack of support for the boots. (I cut dry crooks at the bend to make hurl) NOT A PROBLEM IF NOT MUCH RAIN, in a dry climate (irrigation) It also has a problem of sometimes more than one shoot from roots (tillers), but may depend on growing conditions. The tillers are useful but often shorter than the parent shoot.
  3. Long stems/(peduncle) give much freedom where to cut without cutting brush/(panicles). Enables the dry boots to pull off easily. The top joint is often near the ground. I’m amazed that there are enough leaves to manufacture a brush.
  4. NO CENTER STEM/”sticks” in any of my broomcorn. Unfortunately, not tolerant to Sugar Cane Aphid infesting broomcorn in Mexico and some grain sorghum varieties. Will cross broomcorn with tolerant grain sorghum to produce tolerant broomcorn in about six years.He also states,  “I thank you for finding my comments that in 2006 I established a gene pool from 6 seed heads each from 31 good performing families out of about 200 resulting from matings in 1983. I’m a bit disappointed that color variation has decreased a bit. But I have isolated true varieties each with a few founders from the main gene pool. Bart Pelton  is evaluating a “dark green” variety in Mexico that is quite uniform, long peduncle, very stiff/no crooks and no tillers, but has a slight panicle problem. Also have some quite uniform short brush varieties good for insides.

Dr. Moyer has also gotten in on some of the efforts at creating a harvesting machine.  He says,

“My attempts failed this year to catch broomcorn on a sheet of plywood behind a sickle-bar grass/hay mower hitched to a tractor (too many grassy weeds).  A tractor PTO grain reaper/binder would be perfect!  I mowed the plants near to the ground and picked up the broom corn by hand making bundles with the tips about even. I tied them with twine and put them under a roof overnight. The next morning, I used a scraper (can be roofing nails in a tire) to deseed the brush and dried it in the sun till mid-afternoon. Then I spread it out under a roof.  (The leftover stalks made good handles.)”

In Conclusion…

The cottage industry demand for broomcorn has remained and actually increased in recent years.  With the aphid issues, drug cartels and now a potential new tariff on Mexican imports the raw supply of broomcorn from Mexico is very much in jeopardy.  One of the most interesting aspects of this attempt to automate the harvesting of broomcorn never has stopped.  For most of us from Baca County the broomcorn industry ended in the mid to late 1970’s, however for others it has continued.

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