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A self-propelled potato harvester made by Grimme reduces the amount of people needed for harvest.

At Steijn Potato Farms in York, P.E.I. they were having problems finding skilled labour to run their potato harvesting operation. Their fields also varied in size with obstructions throughout. As their potato harvester was aging and needed replacement, they started considering their options.

Rene Steijn was originally from Holland and had worked with self-propelled harvesters, which required only one operator to run them — solving the Steijn’s labour problem. Rene and his son Robin started researching self-propelled models. There were no self-propelled harvesters on Prince Edward Island, so they started looking at bringing one to the island.

There were two models which caught their attention — the Grimme Varitron 470 and the Dewulf Kwatro. The Grimme model is a four-row self-propelled harvester that is easy to maneuver with its wheeled chassis. It also has a seven-ton bunker allowing for non-stop harvesting operation due to the reversable bunker web. The Steijn’s would also be able to obtain it through their local Grimme dealer, HJV Equipment.

“Either one would have been a good option,” Robin says in a phone interview. “The Dewulf came on tracks and we didn’t feel It was necessary to have a track system with our soil conditions.”

Self-propelled potato harvesters aren’t as common in North America as they are in Europe. Further west from the Maritimes they are gaining in popularity with a Lenco model made by Advanced Farm Equipment available. With a self-propelled harvester it doesn’t need to be pulled behind a tractor and doesn’t require a windrower operating in the field with it either. A truck running next to the harvester to collect spuds, is also not required.

“The selling point of this harvester over a conventional harvester that you tow behind, is it’s just one operator and one machine, and then the trucks just come to the field and wait for the harvester to fill its own hopper,” Blair Cobb, service technician at HJV Equipment, explains in a phone interview.

On Steijn Potato Farms the reduced labour and machines made a huge difference during harvest last year. With the dry growing season across the Maritimes, potato crops were ready to be dug at different times with breaks between fields. If the Steijns had had to hire a team for harvest they would have needed to dig continuously. The Steijns also were able to plant winter wheat for the first time ever, due to not needing tractors for harvest.

“I suppose (the Grimme Varitron 470) was really good. I think it did exactly what we wanted it to do, there were some things that changed a little bit. But all in all, there wasn’t very many problems,” Robin says.

With the dry growing season, not all of the features of the Grimme Varitron 470 were able to be tested out. Self-propelled harvesters are known for being able to dig in wetter conditions than their conventional counterparts.

“(Self-propelled harvesters) can harvest in wetter conditions where a standard harvester can’t because conventional tow behind harvesters have to have a truck beside them at all times, and then wind rowers in front of them,” Cobb explains.

There has been interest from other growers Cobb says. He expects there could be more coming to P.E.I. in the future.