As farmers know better than most, necessity really is the mother of invention. For years, farmers have jimmy-rigged and retrofitted mobility onto non-mobile potato cleaning equipment, both to share equipment between yards and to clean tubers in-field to reduce the cost of transporting tare. The downside of moving machines that aren’t built to move is that parts get beat up and worn out in the process, reducing equipment’s functional lifespan. Now, companies are responding to growers’ needs by creating equipment purpose-built for mobility. Mobility is one of the biggest trends in potato production today, and that’s a good thing for farmers and the industry alike.
Cleaning tubers in the field isn’t just a question of ease or convenience: it’s increasingly a cost- and labor-saving necessity. As farms get bigger, fields are becoming much more spread out. Many (if not most) potato growers now operate fields and/or storage buildings in multiple locations; in fact, I can think of four growers off the top of my head who operate in three or more states. Mobility allows a grower to amortize a single piece of equipment over more acres and minimizes product transport time between yards or between field and yard.
Mobility also helps solves human resource limitations. Some mobile equipment, such as Lockwood’s VACS Mobile cleaning line, can be successfully and easily prepped for hauling in as little as half an hour by just one person. Lockwood’s new Mobile Tank, which delivers smooth and consistent tuber flow into handling equipment like the VACS Mobile, offers highway-speed tow-ability with nothing more than a quick coupling onto a semi.
Most importantly, mobility today doesn’t cost capacity or functionality: in fact, both the VACS Mobile and the Mobile Tank offer enhanced functionality over many of their non-mobile counterparts. For example, the Mobile Tank features a telescoping conveyor that follows the pile backward into the tank, helping to empty the tank cleanly without an operator needing to rotate the bottom conveyor.
Of course, mobility needs to offer economic return on investment, not just enhanced ease. We estimate that the return on investment for both the VACS Mobile and the Mobile Tank, based only on labor savings, is about 2.5 years on average.
I do think the industry is looking for this kind of mobile innovation and more. Growers need to get more done with less cost and less time: that’s what mobility delivers.