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 that we wanted something similar for our potatoes. We spend so much time and effort deciding on the right inputs, but back then we had no idea how they affected in-field variability.
Bill: What value do you get from potato yield monitoring?
Kate: For me, the priority is to see variability in a field. Once you can see patterning, you can start addressing issues. Yield monitoring in potatoes isn’t nearly as straightforward as it is in, say, wheat since you pull up debris. But, you see universal truths: trends in areas of the field, repetition of patterns over seasons.
Bill: Recently, you added field-to-storage tracking. How has that impacted your business?
Kate: Storage mapping today is incredible. Since my field and bin maps are colour-coded by each truckload, I can now track exactly where the potatoes I’m shipping were grown in a field. Before, I could see quality when the potatoes came out of the ground; now I have an incredibly detailed map of how that quality changes after a long period in storage.
Bill: You also use your maps with customers?
Kate: Absolutely. We use the maps to educate buyers. A lot of people think you start harvesting at one side of the field, end at the other and that it’s all about the same in between. In reality, there are a million ways to approach a rectangular field depending on the obstacles in it, and there are all kinds of factors that affect yield and quality. If I can sit down with them with my field and storage maps, I can show them exactly what and where we harvested. Now we can have a real conversation. I see that being a real and increasing benefit as buyers want more information.
Bill: How have you integrated the monitors into your business?
Kate: Some people don’t see value in data collection. I see enormous benefit in collecting data of all kinds. But, like any technology, yield and tracking monitors are just one component of a bigger effort. They don’t remove the need for further investigation; they don’t replace scouting. They are simply tools we’ve found really useful on our farm.