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Field and Storage Mapping on the Vander Zaag Farm

Ontario potato farmers Kate and Peter Vander Zaag were among the first to adopt potato yield monitoring and, more recently, field-to-storage load tracking and mapping. Tech-savvy producers who prioritize quality, the Vander Zaags believe capturing quality information is key to growing better potatoes. I sat down with Kate to hear her perspective. Bill: What made you first consider yield monitoring? Kate: When we started seeing yield maps for grain, we thought immediately…

Prepping Problem Potatoes For Long-Term Storage

For the best chance of long-term storage success, potato tubers at harvest should be dry, disease free, and uniformly 48 to 60°F. Reality is rarely so kind, however. A wide variety of field and environmental factors often contribute to tubers entering storage in less than ideal condition. Tubers can be wet, infected with disease and/or too hot or too cold. In some cases, daily and hourly temperature fluctuations mean over-warm and over-cold…

Water Soluble Versus Slow-Release Fertilizers

Not all phosphorus-based fertilizers are created equal. For this reason, achieving adequate and well-timed phosphorus nutrition in potatoes can prove complicated and – if managed incorrectly – unnecessarily costly. Consider this: if two fertilizers contain the same total amount of elemental phosphorus but that phosphorus is held in different compounds that react differently in soil, the fertilizers may vary widely in how much and when their phosphorus is available to plants. This…

Best Investment? Clean Seed

The dollars and cents of farm business success aren’t always as simple as they might first appear. While minimizing costs can seem like a smart business decision, it is exactly the opposite if that up-front savings ends up costing crop quality and/or yield. The purchase of seed is a perfect example: while it can be tempting to buy the least costly seed potatoes available, investing in high quality, tested, disease-free seed will…

Inefficient Washlines = Wasted Dollars

Enormous variation exists in the technology, efficiency and quality of potato washlines. In my travels through hundreds of farmers’ and processors’ packing lines, I’ve seen it all: washlines that are ultra-automated and modern, others that are jimmy-rigged and homemade; washlines that are effective and efficient, others that remove only a fraction of the dirt and rock. The return-on-investment of a quality washline is obvious and immediate. As the very first components of…

Benefits of Proper Seed Potato Handling and Shipping

In the springtime shipping rush, the organizing, grading, shipping and occasional crisis managing that define seed potato sales can make even the most seasoned producer frustrated. Unfortunately, the pressure to fill orders quickly can result in potatoes that went into storage in perfect condition arriving at customers’ doors bruised and cracked. Given that the ultimate goal and the key to long-term business success is customer satisfaction, speed needs to be secondary to…

Storage 101: Why Humidity Matters

Maintaining proper humidity in one’s bin or shed is a critical component of tuber storage. The first step towards achieving that goal is understanding the somewhat complicated science of air moisture. The total amount of moisture in air is termed air’s absolute humidity. Equally important in potato storage is relative humidity (RH): the amount of moisture held in air at a specific temperature, expressed as a per cent of the maximum amount…

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Managing Your Packaging Supply Chain Two supply chains converge in potato packing facilities: a produce chain and a packaging chain. In general, packers are fantastic at managing their potato supply chains: since dollars follow the potatoes, packers invest time and effort perfecting movement metrics and operational techniques that optimize their potato handling. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said about how packers manage their packaging supply chains. Most packers see packaging as a…

Managing Fertilizer-derived Salts in Potato Fields

Crop producers who struggle with damagingly high soil salinity due to naturally occurring salt deposits, high water tables and/or salt accumulations from manure applications know managing salinity can require intensive effort. Luckily, managing fertilizer-derived salts in soil requires only a basic understanding of soil chemistry, some simple know-how, and balance. High soil salt content increases the osmotic potential (pressure) required for water molecules to move. In practical terms, the higher the salinity,…

Field to Storage Traceability

A Benefit to Customers and Producers Alike Many agricultural producers are worried about consumers’, packer/processors’ and governments’ demands for increasingly strict, detailed traceability of agricultural products and production practices. Farmers are justifiably proud of the safe, high-quality, nutritious food they produce. Many are both offended by and resistant to the idea that they should have to track, trace, prove and transparently show their products’ production and movement histories, and are concerned that traceability…

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