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GRIMME’S new self-propelled four-row potato harvester, the Ventor 4150, was presented a silver innovation award by the German Agricultural Society (DLG). (Photo courtesy Grimme)

Agritechnica Showcases New Potato Technology

Several new innovations could be a fit in Canadian potato fields.

Every two years, vendors and farmers meet in Hanover, Germany for Agritechnica, the world’s largest trade fair for agricultural machinery. This year, nearly 450,000 people walked the 26 halls looking at new innovations and production solutions. Spud Smart was there for a firsthand look at some of the latest innovations in the potato sector.

Agritechnica is a big draw for farmers who want to stay on the cutting edge of technology. This year, a group of six potato growers from Ontario made the trip to check out the latest innovations in potatoes. Homer Vander Zaag, a potato farmer from Alliston, Ont., said he was intrigued by the optical sorting technology. While he already has a TOMRA sorting unit for washed potatoes on the farm, he’s interested in purchasing a sorter for dirty potatoes. He was also interested in a variable rate irrigation system with remote control units and climate control for storage units.

While the innovations are certainly a draw, so too is the ‘European experience.’ “The most interesting thing for me is just looking at cultural influence on ag and technology and just how all that marries up,” said Vander Zaag. “Europe has been farming for hundreds of years. It has a longer history, a wetter climate, smaller fields (and) different peculiarities.

“And then you’ve got North America, which is kind of a different animal,” he continued. “It’s younger, a bit more wild west. They’re both ag – but just interesting to see how culture influences how the ag world develops.”

Matt Oosting, who works for Vander Zaag, said he was interested in seeing technology that could be brought back to North America. This is always a struggle for North American visitors, since smaller farms limit the size of most equipment. Most European harvesting equipment, for example, although interesting, isn’t exactly a good fit for North American farms.

Another big difference between Europe and North America is regulations. In many ways, Europeans are bound by red tape driven by confusing politics, not science. North American farmers recognize, though, that it could be just a matter of time before they deal with similar restrictions.

“It’s just like looking into the future in some ways,” said Vander Zaag.

“And if we can bring that back, we can be on the cutting edge of tomorrow today,” added Oosting. “We might not be able to have it at our doorstep, but we can take those ideas and move forward with it.”

Innovations at Agritechnica

Two harvesters at Agritechnica stood out as cutting edge. Although not necessarily a good fit for Canadian potato farmers size-wise, their focus on simplicity and efficiency does draw attention.

This year, the German Agricultural Society (DLG) awarded GRIMME, sister company of Spudnik, with a Silver Innovation Award for its new self-propelled four-row potato harvester. Ventor 4150 is the company’s first four-row, self-propelled harvester based on the side elevator concept, said product manager Dirk-Jan Stapel. European farmers, he noted, were looking for a machine that could gently harvest smaller potatoes quickly and efficiently. They also wanted a machine that wouldn’t exceed 3.5 metres in width, as most European roads are quite narrow. Stapel said Ventor 4150 could be a fit for some Canadian farmers, particularly those who are looking for high output for small potatoes.

The second harvester launched at Agritechnica was AVR’s Spirit 5200, a machine designed with simplicity in mind. The two-row trailed harvester is simple, functional and has a good price point, said Edwin Rood, business development manager at AVR.

Some growers, he said, find hydraulics complicated, which is why this model was designed with an almost completely mechanical drive. “Some people prefer simple without sacrificing quality,” said Rood.

Although not new to the market, tillage equipment company Lemken offers Karat 9, which has been surprisingly popular with potato farmers. P.E.I. potato farmers, said Lemken’s Laurent Letzter, are particularly drawn to the Karat 9 because it protects soil from erosion, which is certainly a major concern for farmers in that region.

In just a single pass, Karat can replace the plow as well as prepare the seedbed, while firming and levelling the soil with packing rollers. Letzter said this helps prevent soil erosion, seal in moisture and ensure strong root development. When using the Karat 9 on fields, he said potato growers have noticed more intense germination and bigger potato tops, which often result in higher yields.

Amazone offers sprayer technology it thinks is a perfect fit for Canadian potato farmers. The UX 01 sprayer, said Frederike Kregel, product marketer, is a trailed sprayer that offers exactly the same innovative technology as the self-propelled sprayers, including an operation centre, automatic cleaning program and boom technology.

“The new UX 01 is very efficient,” said Kregel. “We can offer different tank sizes, from 4,200 litres up to 1,200 litres. The big tank is an opportunity to do the job with one person.”

The big draw for UX 01 is the completely electronic operation centre with the Comfort Package plus. All models with Comfort-Pack plus are equipped with a display for machine control. “The actuation of the spray agent circuit is then carried exclusively out via this touchscreen display which also functions perfectly even when using gloves, said Kregel. “The user just selects the desired function and the sprayer adjusts itself automatically.”

For the UX 01, booms from 27 metres to 40 metres are available, and they feature ContourControl, SwingStop and AmaSelect technology. AmaSelect, in particular, is interesting for potato farmers, said Kregel. “Each nozzle has its optimal working pressure. If you are out of range, the terminal switches automatically to the nozzle with the right pressure range, depending on the working speed, for the perfect droplet size.”

Dutch company Tolsma-Grisnich was also at Agritechnica showcasing several of its latest innovations. The first, explained Gidi Dekker, sales manager, is Vision Control, a storage computer with intelligent modules that regulates temperature, relative air humidity and CO2 content during storage by controlling fans, hatches, heaters and mechanical cooling.

Further improving storage, the company now offers Tolsma YOU (Yield Observation Unit), a unit that measures the weight and CO2 content of potatoes stored in bulk. Dekker said the system works in combination with the Vision Control climate computer, further avoiding weight loss during storage by comparing measured data in an online website.

The company also introduced a compact cooling system, the Quadro Compact Cooler (QCC), which is designed to be durable and available in four variable cooling capacities: 40, 60, 120 and 160 kW, explained Dekker. The system, he said, is suitable for the Canadian market. Additionally, the QCC can be equipped with an internal hatch, so air from the outside can be used for ventilation. The horizontal design of the condenser ensures optimum air supply during external ventilation.

Tolsma-Grisnich also offers sorting and grading technology. The MV-09 sorter can be adjusted to various speeds and times using the simple controls of the grading machine and sieve cleaner. The MV-09 model is particularly suitable for processing both ware and seed potatoes. It can process up to 20 tonnes an hour, said Dekker, which makes it a good option for farmers who want to do precise grading.

At Agritechnica, TOMRA Sorting Food introduced its Field Potato Sorter, designed for sorting unwashed potatoes. Using multi-spectral near infrared (NIR) sensors, this high-capacity, high-volume sorter has the ability to remove clods of dirt, stones and foreign material. After passing under the scanner, foreign material is rejected by finger ejectors that are positioned at the end of the conveyor belt.

In a follow-up interview, Homer Vander Zaag said he saw a tonne of “neat stuff” at Agritechnica, but what surprised him was that not a lot of it stuck. “My summation is that it’s all still quite Euro-centric,” he said. “In general terms, stuff does not translate very well.

For instance, “self-propelled potato harvesters. I mean, that’s kind of the biggest cool factor for potato farmers. There are a few of them in Alberta… but they’re getting mixed reviews, and they’re not really going to be the go-to for North American potato farmers.”

The next Agritechnica takes place Nov. 10-16, 2019 in Hanover, Germany.

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