Did you know skydiving and commercial potato production have something in common? Before they release their chutes, skydivers usually reach terminal velocity, which is the constant speed those falling bodies travel when air resistance prevents further acceleration.
Air systems found in potato equipment are based on the same principle. The air inside the system is adjusted to meet the terminal velocity of the potato. Once the air is adjusted then that potato begins to float. And we can float that potato on top of a table or conveyor.
Approximately 95 per cent of our equipment uses an air system. We utilize air in planting, harvesting, and handling and cleaning equipment. Air systems offer growers many benefits. For example, they are gentler on potatoes than mechanical systems, they’re user-friendly and low maintenance as there are no moving parts involved but simply an air stream, and they’re accurate and efficient. There are a few other systems out there, but the most economical uses air.
In fact, commercial potato production, and the potato equipment sector in particular, will continue to incorporate air systems into planters, harvesters and handling equipment as farmers experience and acknowledge their value.
Additionally, as acres increase, air systems will also increase in size as farmers look for bigger systems. We are already experiencing this trend, and large-scale growers are really jumping on board as they realize the value and profit in these systems. For example, the VACS series potato handling and cleaning system has a capacity of 5,000 CWT or hundred weight per hour, removing rocks, dirt, vines, corn cobs, stalks, clods and other foreign material.
As labour costs continue to rise and agricultural workers become harder to find, growers tell me it’s more critical to use air systems to clean product going into storage and to processors. Eliminating tare means less debris is going into storage and less dockage is applied at the plant. Thus, more money is flowing into growers’ pockets.
Mechanical eliminators are tumbling, hitting and agitating potatoes to remove dirt and debris. However, they simply don’t get the foreign material out. And being more aggressive with the potato may help remove dirt, but it’s more damaging.
Air harvesters handle large volumes and use air and product density to lift the potatoes out of the rocks, increasing productivity while minimizing bruising and damage. In the air chamber of a handling and cleaning system, debris is removed from the potatoes by flowing the load over a cleaning table. The remaining contents are moved into a high-flow air chamber that elevates the potatoes into a stream of air, lifting them onto a discharge conveyor while allowing the stones to continue through the machine, removing them from the potatoes.
Air cup planters use vacuum to pick up and hang on to seed pieces until they are deposited and planted. Thus, planting is faster with more accurate seed spacing and placement. I have witnessed some growers at planting reach 95 per cent accuracy while travelling six miles per hour.
Air is what makes that machine as accurate and efficient as it is. Accuracy and efficiency decrease growers’ time spent in the field. They’re planting faster and using less seed, which translates into dollars. Also, accurate seed placement and spacing promotes optimal tuber growth, which increases the yield per acre. All of these factors provide growers using air systems at planting, harvest and for handling and cleaning with an edge over the competition.
Growers want equipment that will give them value and increase their profits. For this reason, I’m certain we’ll see an increase in the use of air systems in potato equipment in the future.