Do you remember when strawberries were only available a few months a year? When it was acceptable a case of sweet potatoes weighing 40 pounds at Thanksgiving would shrink to 38 lb. by Christmas, and 30 lb. by Easter? When consumers accepted that “new” potatoes were something time-limited and special?
Shockingly, none of these realities were very long ago. What a far way we’ve come in a short number of years. Today, consumers expect top quality and consistent availability of their produce 12 months a year. Their refusal to pay top dollar for anything but top quality has pushed our industry to do a much better job of holding produce — and that’s a good thing. Here are some of the newest options for holding quality products longer.
Ten years ago, potato growers did not heat their stacks from the bottom. Today, some growers are routinely doing that and more. Prescriptive Air (from Techmark Inc., for example)is a great new option for those who even occasionally harvest cold and wet potatoes. The system is simple but requires some effort and investment: to direct air to specific soft spots, attach a portable heater to a second plenum and then stop up all vents except those directed to the area that requires drying.
There’s no question prescriptive air does a more effective — and safer — job of drying dirty, wet spuds than simply pumping heat onto the entire stack from the ends of the building. New just in the last five years, I expect prescriptive air to take off among growers who have suffered from hot/soft spots following challenging harvests (I’m looking at you, Manitoba growers). Air companies are starting to look more seriously at technologies that will support automated prescriptive air. Already, some options are hitting the market; I expect more will come available soon.
While heating is a stack-saver in some cases, refrigeration can be key to keeping a storage bin stable as soon as spring temperatures start rising. Now that growers are keeping potatoes on-farm into May, June, and even July, refrigeration is an increasing priority. Achieving desired refrigeration no longer requires permanently installed units, however.
Particularly in Alberta and the Maritimes, it’s increasingly common for growers to opt for portable refrigeration that slots into a building’s fan house. In some cases, the refrigeration units are rented; in other cases, a grower might alternate refrigeration between two or more buildings to optimize flexibility. Adding a portable entrance at the time of building construction is a relatively inexpensive addition that can pay off in significant processor premiums for growers who plan to hold a crop right into summer.