Getting a Handle on Equipment Spud Smart Fall 2010

What’s new and interesting in equipment this fall plus tips for making purchasing decisions.

Potato handling equipment hasn’t changed much in 50 years, but the companies that build the conveyors, stingers, pilers, truck boxes, washers,  polishers and grading equipment continually try to improve the products they sell with one goal in mind: to ensure the end product—your crop—is handled gently.

One Canadian supplier of farm equipment says two manufacturers are offering equipment that takes the tender handling of your potatoes to a whole new level.

Dave Gallant, owner of Gallant Sales in Grande Pointe, Man., says more robust potato handling equipment with shorter drops is now available to Canadian growers. He says Logan Farm Equipment and Tri-Steel Manufacturing, both U.S.-based businesses, offer new designs and higher quality. “Logan’s equipment is light years ahead of what is currently available because they’ve made significant improvements to existing designs,” says Gallant.

According to Gallant, looking out for handling equipment that reduces crop injury will increase a grower’s return. Truck boxes with no welded seams and innovative roller adjusters are a good investment: “With no welded seams there is a cleaner, more durable finish, overall stronger product and less damage to the potatoes. Another innovation by Tri-Steel is felt rollers for drying potatoes as opposed to the standard sponge drying rollers.” Also, felt rollers require less maintenance, he says.

Another manufacturer making improvements and listening intently to growers about their needs when it comes to potato handling equipment is Sandy Stewart  of H.F. Stewart and Sons, located near O’Leary, P.E.I.“We manufacture our own line of handling equipment, but we will customize units to meet customer needs. Potato farmers have some pretty good ideas about what will work and we sometimes adapt them into our own designs,” says Stewart. “Better equipment looks after potatoes better,” he says.

Minimal bruising and damage to potatoes is easier with good equipment, but getting your crop safely in the bin means regular maintenance of equipment beyond the initial point of sale to keep padding, belts and rollers in good condition and proper alignment of machinery for optimal harvest conditions. Not only is a producer’s profit dependent upon bringing in a healthy crop—with as little damage as possible—but the bottom line may also be affected by downtime if regular maintenance is not practiced.

“Lack of maintenance results most often in downtime, which is expensive at harvest,” says Andrew Blight of Spudnik Equipment Company located in Blackfoot, Idaho. “Those kinds of dollars add up quickly,” he says. Blight encourages growers to go over their equipment in the fall, after harvest, to ensure it is ready for next year. After harvest, many growers are tired and want to put their equipment away and forget about it, but Blight says that can lead to problems when machinery is brought out of storage the next season, particularly if it is needed immediately. There may be parts that need replacing, resulting in downtime while a replacement is found and installed, he says. All equipment needs regular maintenance because sprockets, rollers and chains wear out, says Blight.

Before making any purchases on handling equipment, consider buying products made in North America over their European counterparts, says Gallant. “There isn’t anything on a Tri-Steel machine that cannot be accessed in North America, which makes getting parts faster and usually cheaper.”

Also consider buying equipment with greater capacity than needed, says Stewart. Growers will have room to expand their operations and, by not running at maximum capacity, there is less chance of overload and excessive wear: “When you have to run a piece of equipment wide open, you can cause more wear and tear,” says Stewart.

Innovation and improvements from manufacturers on handling equipment should make for some interesting purchasing options for growers this fall. Ultimately, regular maintenance on new and used equipment affects a grower’s bottom line—from minimizing spoilage to downtime. As one equipment supplier points out—if you take care of your equipment it will take care of you: “Growers have to buy what they think will work best for them. Then, when they have made their purchases, they need to do regular maintenance to prolong the life of the machine and to take good care of the crop,” says Stewart. spud