When TJ Lockwood built the potato industry’s first ever potato grader way back in 1930, his innovation was greeted with huge enthusiasm by farmers who, until then, had had to do all potato sorting by hand. It’s hard to fully comprehend just how far potato handling equipment has come in the years since.
TJ Lockwood would be impressed but likely not surprised by many of the mechanical innovations present in today’s machines. He loved solutions, so would quickly see the value in innovations like air cups that precisely position seed potatoes at planting, mobile equipment that allows in-field cleaning, and the many high and low-tech improvements which ensure gentle, bruise free tuber handling. In even just the last 10 years, we’ve seen huge improvements in automation, higher volume blowers, better cleaning tables, and more.
An innovator who valued efficiency, TJ would certainly love the size and power increases of machinery today, which have brought about huge efficiency gains. In his time, harvesting a handful of acres in a day was a major accomplishment. Even a couple decades ago, harvesting 20 acres in a day was noteworthy. Today, farmers using high-efficiency equipment can complete 100 or more acres in one day while relying on fewer workers than ever before. The efficiency increases are necessary, not only because farm sizes are growing quickly, but also because available labour is far harder to find than in decades past.
One of the biggest benefits of today’s bigger tractors is more auxiliary hydraulic function. Improved hydraulics allows variable speed and increased throughput adjustability, allowing potatoes to flow smoothly in any harvesting conditions.
While TJ would be impressed by potato handling equipment’s size and innovation, he’d be downright shocked by the information technology, the touch screens, push-button adjustability and informatics, now available. We now take for granted things like automatic planter depth adjustments, push button sprocket changes done from the comfort of one’s cab, yield monitoring data linked to a smart phone, and so much more. In fact, much of what farmers now depend on to maximize efficiency, comfort and production success wouldn’t have been imaginable to farmers even a few decades ago.
Let’s raise a glass to progress, we’ve come a very long way! That said, we at Lockwood firmly believe there’s always room to strive, innovate and improve from where we are today. 100 years from now, in fact, likely much sooner, I’m sure farmers will be saying, “Remember when someone actually had to drive this thing?!”