How Mechanization Eases Harvest, Packing, And Labor Issues

Moving To Mechanize

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Trying to look past the fact that labor is still an issue, growers continue to do whatever they can to make sure their crops are harvested and get to market — in one piece.

Maintaining quality at harvest and beyond is a key focal point at Barrett Produce Company. According to Bruce Barrett, one of the owners of Barrett Produce, a grower/shipper in Muleshoe, TX, the object is to harvest a nice looking piece of fruit. Or, as in the case at Barrett, a nice looking potato.

The operation grows about 1,200 acres of red potatoes and harvests the crop with Double L self-propelled harvesters from Double L Inc. Barrett says these harvesters aren’t the fastest available, but they are very gentle when handling the potatoes.

“It is all about the skin,” explains Barrett. “If you beat them up in the harvesting process, no one will want to buy them no matter how good they taste.”

The farm now uses GPS technology for both planting and harvesting, thanks to windy conditions. Barrett says because of the wind in his area of Texas, he plants a rye cover crop in the fall to hold the soil in place. The potatoes are planted into the rye in the spring. Before the potatoes come up, however, the rye is killed with an herbicide.

Because there is a lot of debris — both at planting with the foliage from the rye and at harvest with the dead rye on the ground — that protects the potato, the GPS guidance system helps both the planter and the harvester stay on track.

Pretty Produce

In the Southeast, Danny Johns, owner of Blue Sky Farms in Hastings, FL, also grows potatoes and focuses on quality. The farm produces about 600 acres of white, red, and yellow potatoes for fresh market. Like Barrett, one of Johns’ big concerns is keeping the potatoes “looking good” from harvest until they reach the consumer.

To do that, Blue Sky Farms has made some upgrades in the packinghouse. “We are getting more technologically advanced so we can provide the freshest quality at the marketplace,” Johns explains. 

To help the farm achieve its goals, a sorting unit from Odenberg has been added to the packingline. The sorter uses cameras to grade potatoes. Before using the machine, Johns says sorting potatoes was very labor intensive.

In the field, Blue Sky uses two, four-row harvesters built by a local manufacturer, Ryan Manufacturing. Johns says he has been using Ryan Equipment for 25 years.

“After 25 years, the machines are still viable pieces of equipment,” he explains, and haven’t become obsolete.”