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Plug and Play Technology for Potatoes

There are all kinds of new, innovative technologies hitting the market that strive to make growing and harvesting crops better, faster, less labour intensive, more lucrative. But how do you choose which technologies to invest in and which to let pass you by? You do what farmers have been doing since humans first put seeds in the ground: lean across your fence (or, in this case, the internet) and seek the advice of other farmers.

Gary Naslund farms with CSS Farms in Nebraska. He was among the very first farmers to adopt sonar-based technologies that automatically control potato harvester boom height and digger depth. Today, he runs a fleet of nine harvesters equipped with both technologies.

Naslund grows round whites for Frito-Lay. Like every farmer, his priority is to capture quality incentives and minimize damage disincentives at processing. A handful of years ago, he invested in his first automatic boom height control: an investment he says has made a “huge” impact to his potatoes’ quality.

“One of the biggest problems we have on our farm is that we start almost completely fresh for labour every year, which means we have a totally inexperienced crew operating our machines. A really good harvester operator can run a boom without automatic technology. Having it on board if your operator is good just makes it easier for him, though some of my best guys choose not to even use it. But, where automatic boom height control really shines is if you’ve got someone inexperienced running the harvester. It is really effective at minimizing bruise.”

Where automatic boom height control really shines is if you’ve got someone inexperienced running the harvester. It is really effective at minimizing bruise.

On his variable geography, automatic depth control offers at least as much benefit, both because it minimizes tuber damage and because it controls the amount of soil pushing through the machine, optimizing speed.

“We farm some really rough ground. That digger control has been a godsend on that land. When you’re going through valleys and over hills, even the most experienced operator will tell you it’s totally a guess as to how deep you are. But with depth control, you can have confidence knowing you’re getting exactly the depth you want.”

Auto depth control is also a benefit in variable soil where the machine would otherwise dig deeper in sandy areas and ride high on firmer ground.

Unlike some technologies, sonar-based automatic boom height and digger depth control is plug-and-play simple, he says.

“Figuring out the first one took a bit of time, but installation of Greentronics’ system is easy and the learning curve of the software is easy. Once you have the setting in and the sensors in place, it does its own thing. I think I’ve replaced one sensor in five years. We find the only real maintenance we’ve had to do is because wires get pinched or cut because of operator error.”

The technology automatically self-calibrates and, though operators can adjust certain controls based on preference, little operator involvement is required.

Who would Naslund recommend these technologies to?

“Every farmer needs to make their own decisions about what to invest in and how to calculate return on investment. For us, these were easy decisions.”

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