BEI demise spurs race to fill blueberry harvester void
When BEI International, a South Haven, Michigan, agriculture equipment supplier, went defunct last April, it left several growers throughout the country without their promised harvesting equipment and parts, and with little hope of recouping their thousands of dollars in investments.
BEI’s demise also accelerated efforts to fill the demand for blueberry harvesters, equipment and services.
BEI had been one of the few companies that specialized in manufacturing and fitting blueberry harvesters. Its machines were popular and in widespread use for decades. The company’s bank called BEI’s loan because the manufacturer was unable to meet its obligations. Its assets were turned over to its secured creditor. The bank’s action resulted in an auction of the remaining equipment, parts and furnishings at the company’s South Haven facility, which attracted dozens of interested buyers, including some who had been caught up in the company’s tainted business dealings.
It also set in motion plans by at least three newer entries into the harvester market, although all of them had some previous experience working with BEI on various projects in the past, and brought levels of expertise to the business that made sense for blueberry harvester production.
Brandon Schnettler, plant manager for AG Harvesters, located in Au Gres, Michigan, on the east side of the state, explained the features of that company’s new blueberry harvester at the Great Lakes EXPO, as well as what compelled the long-time custom equipment supplier to get into the harvester game.
“It was unfortunate what happened to the (BEI) employees,” Schnettler said. “BEI had come to us for fabrication and machine support to help fulfill some orders. We did what we could. We saw an opportunity and a good product.”
AG Harvesters is a division of ATD Engineering & Machine, which has been in business since 1956, building automated foundry equipment.
The company’s Model 3000 four-wheel drive harvester is a BEI-style machine with a 90-degree turning radius, top-loading elevator design with a rotary or sway picking mechanism. The company also will offer a Model 2000 tracked machine. It has a rear load or top load design and comes with a rotary or sway picking mechanism.
Its smaller model 1750 is designed for high-density crop production, such as that seen in parts of Georgia.
“It’s just a little bit of a new industry for us but it involves the same technology we’ve been supplying all these years,” Schnettler said.
He said BEI had come to ATD to inquire about machining and custom design work.
“Nobody wants to see a company fail,” he said. “We tried everything we could to assist and bring costs down on framing, modifications and engineering. We didn’t want to see their customers go without a product, so we did some reverse engineering on what we saw (BEI) was doing and this is what we have.”
AG Harvesters has jumped head first into producing agricultural solutions, including further development of a tomato harvesting machine and a high-volume citrus steaming unit.
“We think we can bring a lot to the industry because our engineering staff can see things in a lot of different ways,” he said. “This (BEI) harvester has been around for 20 years with very little tweaking. We see opportunities (to make it better).”