There’s nothing worse than seeing the crop you’ve invested all season growing get bruised, nicked or otherwise compromised during harvest. The good news is most handling damage is avoidable. Here are my top tips to ensure your crop comes through harvest in the best possible condition.
From ground-opening right through until the potatoes are safely stored or shipped, equipment should be optimized to agitate/bounce/drop/roll tubers the minimum necessary (ie: the minimum amount that is still effective and efficient).
- Ensure you do not run the shaker in the primary bed too hard.
- Keep the boom height as close as possible to the pile. Running with a fuller load rather than emptying too often can reduce drop.
- Ensure adequate soil carries to the secondary bed, minimizing potatoes’ roll.
- Limit machine speed to mitigate potatoes being thrown from one conveyor to the next (when harvesting easy-bruise varieties, it’s always better to operate at 540 rather than 1000 PTO speed).
Some issues can be mitigated with maintenance.
5. Install new nose wings, spades, center point and coulter discs on the windrowers and harvester to ensure the machines feed properly without cutting the potatoes.
6. Regularly inspect and replace where necessary all rubber coverings and flites on all belted chains: though the investment of replacing a side conveyor belt, for example, might feel like a painful hit, spending the money will ultimately save you much more.
Using the right equipment at the right time can also make an important difference.
7. I always advise using a three-row harvester so windrowers have two places to discharge rather than dropping windrows on windrows.
8. I’ve been called out to the field by a grower frustrated because a high percentage of his potatoes were being crushed at harvest. Tracing the potatoes all the way through the system, we finally figured out that the windrower tractor’s too-wide tires were riding the edge of the neighbouring undug row and crushing a portion of the crop before the tubers ever came out of the ground. If only all problems were so easy to solve!
9. If the potatoes are destined for storage, do not harvest in excessive heat.
10. No matter how good your harvesting equipment, remember that operator care is the single most important factor in harvesting undamaged potatoes.
Wishing you a safe and happy harvest!