Business News

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
  • Posted:

Potatoes September 2018

Good airflow vital in box store set up

Relatively small amounts of expenditure can greatly improve the efficiency and running costs of box potato stores, the results of a major industry trial shows.

The two-year project identifies a number of ways in which owners of both existing and new stores can improve their performance by either retro-fitting a range of features to improve the even-ness of airflow throughout the store, or installing them as original equipment.

“Box stores still account for over half of all UK storage, so the results are highly significant, says AHDB Sutton Bridge head of crop storage, Adrian Cunnington (left).

The trial was industry led*, with 70 per cent of the £800,000 funding coming from Innovate UK. The primary industrial partner was Crop Systems Ltd, a store designer and developer.

The project was run in a specially built 30 per cent model store at Sutton Bridge, and in commercial facilities, including those operated by Branston. It included what may be the most detailed monitoring of airflows ever completed in a potato store, says Mr Cunnington.

“We took measurements at every slot in the face of a box store at both ends of the store, so on a stack that was 10 boxes wide and 8 boxes high that was a total of 160 airflow monitors.

“In standard form we found that nearly 75 per cent of the air produced by the fans to dry and cool the crop wasn’t going through the boxes but was disappearing everywhere else.

“There was massive inefficiency in such systems so we started to examine how we can improve that by installing plenum walls, and testing the use of side and top sheets. This improved airflow dramatically – by as much as a factor of three.

“Nearly all the potatoes produced for the fresh market are stored in boxes, and so a significant proportion of the crop is held in long-term storage”.

Huge differences

Prior to this project AHDB and FEC Energy carried out a trial that indicated huge differences in the efficiency with which energy was being used.

“That started to ring alarm bells, because we were finding store running costs of £4/t in the best stores, but £12/t in the worst. We began to examine what the cause of those differences was, and there are a number of things which come into play.”

The project highlighted one key difference between bulk and box stores, says Crop Systems managing director Ray Andrews (right).

“Bulk stores with underfloor ducts work well because the air literally has nowhere else to go but through the crop. In box stores the air comes out of ducts above the crop and we have much less control over where it goes.

“We found some instances where boxes at the far end of the store saw virtually no air movement at all.”

Following the model store tests the project evaluated the use of a plenum wall at the fan end of a commercial store, and also added side curtains.

“Achieving good airflow right across the store is crucial to getting heat out of the crop and keeping potatoes in best condition. It also helps ensure that refrigeration works efficiently and with less need for de-frosting, which has a dramatic effect on running costs. 

“It is also essential for the consistent distribution of CIPC. If airflow isn’t good then distribution will be inefficient and uneven,” said Mr Andrews.

“In such instances store operators might be tempted to raise the application rate to try and improve the coverage in areas with poorer airflow, which might risk exceeding application limits.

“If airflow is poor there is still a risk you might fail to control sprouting in the far corners of the store,” he commented.

Case study

Mr Cunnington says the partners in the project want to translate the findings into more ‘case study’ work in commercially run stores to complete the research.

“We need more data on running costs, and to collect this both before and after any changes to the store equipment have been made so we can measure how these ideas work in practice.”

The research is already producing benefits for Branston, which has used the project to steer improvements to the stores it and its supplying farmers run.

Agronomy director David Nelson said the variability of temperatures in box stores had been an issue for the whole industry for years, as had variability of CIPC distribution.

His company was keen to find solutions to the problems, which is why it hosted some of the commercial trials in its stores.

“We were keen to see how we could achieve uniformity of airflow and CIPC coverage, and avoid the hot/cold spots that can have a negative impact on crop quality.

“We aim to store potatoes as warm as possible (around 4oC), but need to ensure that temperature is consistent right across the store to prevent the potatoes exceeding the base temperature for sprouting.

“If we cannot achieve that temperature consistently we may need to run fridges at a lower temperature or for longer periods to compensate. Both of those options raise storage costs.”

The company has already seen significant improvements from installing a plenum wall to prevent air short-circuiting around the fan and ensure more ventilation passes through the boxes.

“We did consider using curtains, but felt they would not be as air-tight as a solid plenum face. This could be installed in pretty well any store with floor mounted fridges.”

The upgrade at Branston has enabled the company to store crops for longer and use CIPC more effectively, reducing the need for other sprout suppressants.

*Other partners in the trial included AHDB (storage research); Branston Ltd (producer and processor); Stored Crop Conservation (fogging); FEC Energy (energy efficiency); The Technology Research Centre (CFD and design software) and Aceto Agrochemical Corporation Ltd (CIPC deposition). Scientific knowledge and validation for the project was provided by AHDB and Cranfield University.


Chipping into the UK potato market

After two years of testing, a new transfer trailer has been added to Hawe-Wester’s range, importer Suffolk Farm Machinery has announced. 

Suitable for potatoes, onions, beetroot, carrots and parsnips, the new trailer will be based on two and three-axle chassis with a capacity of between 16–25t of crop, it explains.

Moreover, there is a full width and adjustable for distance cleaner roller table system that takes the crop from the hydraulic driven hopper floor to the fully hydraulic driven and folding crop elevator to the waiting bulkers or trailers, says Suffolk Farm Machinery.

The elevator is on the same styling with buckets taking the crop in the same gentle fashion as current potato harvesters, it adds.  


Under the cleaning roller table is a large steel bunker capable of holding trash, soil and under-sized crop which opens via the control panel to release the bunker load back across the field, says the company. 

The transfer system keeps just one trailer working with the harvester, reducing ground compaction, mud on the road and the need for expensive flotation tyres on standard trailers running down the road loaded.

In addition, the hopper is tapered and has one lower side for the harvester to unload into and the opposite side is higher to gain cubic capacity.  

The KUW has its own PTO driven hydraulic system driving the pump packs, taking pressure off the tractor running the hopper floor, roller table and the crop elevator services. 

This new transfer system offers the larger grower or contractor the opportunity to spread the investment of the KUW system into the potato planting season by being able to transfer seed potatoes straight into planters, claims the company. 

Moreover, by being able to hold 16–25t of seed in one trailer, it can remove the need for a forklift and flat trailers carrying boxes to the fields, says Suffolk Farm Machinery.

Other details include:

Works with trailed type harvesters, trailed bunker harvesters  and self-propelled harvester systems.

  • Wide range of tyre options.
  • Low ground compaction.
  • HP requirement 180-300.
  • On-board coil roller cleaning system, 8 or 12 rollers with turbo cleaning function.
  • Leaves all soil, trash and stones in the field with the bunker system under the cleaning unit.

New East of England agents for potato handling systems

Aimed at strengthening its distribution network for potato handling systems, Bijlsma Hercules has appointed CTM Root Crop Systems as agents for the East of England, the company has announced.  

“Following the success of our Rockstar de-stoners and Ridgestar ridgers, it seems logical to address the packhouse needs of the potato and general vegetable grower,” says CTM Root Crop Systems product manager Karl Arndt.

“We have been well impressed by the Bijlsma Hercules’ design team and the build quality of its equipment range.
“After speaking with existing and potential new customers over the past months, this was a decision easily made, with positive comments received from all.”

Grading process

Bulk hopper grading installations designed by Bijlsma Hercules enable the grading process to take place with a minimum of operating personnel, the company claims. Its space-saving idea, combined with more favourable working conditions, can lead to lowering of costs in operations, it adds.  

Moreover, a bulk hopper installation can improve the quality of product because of the shorter distances that the product has to travel. 

Installations can be provided in the area of weighing, packing and palletizing of various labour-reducing components, says CTM, noting that in most cases it is possible to integrate existing equipment in the installations. 

Moving on to destoners, Mr Arndt says the Rockstar2’s new features should ensure fast, effective and money-saving de-stoning.

Additionally, the sieving performance has been improved by a new web design which aids the free flow of soil, he reveals.
“On certain soil types it is the drops and cascading of soil from one web to the next where you get the separation and on the light lands on the Norfolk/ Suffolk borders, the Rockstar2 is the ideal option,” explains Mr Arndt.

“Because the webs are moving soil all the time, you do not have to use the power-driven scrubbers to push the material through. 

“While fewer webs might give similar results, Rockstar2’s five webs ensure faster performance, and time is money.”

The new machine’s modular design offers greater flexibility enabling the user to replace a web with stars to tackle heavier soils, answering a specific request from customers with variable soil conditions.


Efficient nematicide application

With the huge cost of nematicides, potato growers should consider the most efficient methods of application.

Bye Engineering based at Melton in East Suffolk has been manufacturing the Bed Mixer for nearly 20 years. The design, manufacturing and processes have evolved over the years but the fundamental concept remains the same and is ideal for nematicide granule incorporation.

Available in both single and triple bed formats, and front or rear mounted, the Bed Mixer has been designed specifically to ‘mix’ and not cultivate.  It offers immediate, accurate and efficient incorporation at the correct depth, in the correct place without over cultivating the bed.

The Bed Mixer is used predominantly front mounted during potato planting, offering increased work efficiencies and cost savings. However, rear mounted, triple bed versions are also proving popular where general bed tillers over cultivate and leave the nematicide too deep in the soil profile, explains the company.

The Bed Mixer system eliminates expensive errors with poor placement or incorporation thus maximising the efficiency and efficacy of nematicides, says Bye Engineering.

The Bed Mixer is robust and reliable with low power requirement, geared to run at low engine revs to suit planting speeds. 

It is also designed to carry additional applicators such as tanks for in-furrow treatments or liquid fertiliser.


On-call for potato machinery

Boston-based machinery specialist Burdens Goodacres is preparing for a busy potato harvest. The company has an experienced team of service engineers, each with a fully equipped service van ready to assist potato growers should their machines break down. “We are happy to work on most makes of equipment to rectify any mechanical or electrical faults that may occur,” says Burdens Goodacres general manager Adrian Harrison.

Growers who supply the bag trade should now be thinking about getting their weighing and stitching machinery serviced ready for the coming season. “We are able to travel to you to do the work or you could bring your equipment to us. We can supply new metal grading screens as well as repairing metal and plastic screens where possible,” he adds.

Burdens is dealer for Tong Engineering and Agrimech and can supply both new and used equipment. It offes the Agrimech Titan palletiser and can still supply jump grader riddles and will make most types of roller to order.


New temperature controllers also provide crop humidity adjustment

An extended range of touch screen temperature controllers, including a model for drying and cooling onions, is now available, Farm Electronics has announced.
This new controller uses a combined humidity and temperature sensor manufactured by the company.

Using up to eight of these sensors in the onion crop, together with one ambient sensor outside and one duct sensor, this new controller will provide crop humidity control for stages one and two of onion drying and curing, the company explains.
This will then provide temperature control for cooling in stage three, long term storage, it says.
The new controller can be connected to the internet by either a landline or GSM connection to allow the operator to access the touch screen on their tablet or smart phone, says Farm Electronics, adding that a remote screen is also possible.
The controller’s introduction means the company now manufactures complete systems for onion drying and storage, comprising ventilation equipment including fans, gas heaters and louvres as well as refrigeration equipment and a control system.

“Now we have these new touch screen controls together with access to our Vision Control and equipment manufactured by our Dutch parent company Tolsma, Farm Electronics is in a market leading position to supply the most advanced potato and onion storage equipment in the UK,” says technical sales engineer Elizabeth Thornley. 


Comfortable options for employee accommodation 

Making hiring portable cabins as stress-free an experience as possible is the aim of the family-run business Bunkabin.

The Oldham-based company supplies on-site sleeper and facility units in the UK. “We both manufacture and supply high-quality, cost-effective single and twin sleeper units, providing employees or guests with everything they need for a good night’s sleep,” says the company’s Benjamin Rothwell. “Bunkabin has been providing robust, deluxe, en-suite accommodation throughout the UK since 1998, and our ever-growing fleet now boasts more than 2,500 sleeper units. 

“We supply the length and breadth of the county and across all of the sectors – agriculture, construction, education and defence industries, as well as a wide range of events and festivals.”

Units range from the Junior Sleeper cost efficient base model through to the top of the range Bespoke Sleeper. Every sleeper includes full-size beds, thermostatic controlled heating, powerful showers and is energy efficient. The company can also supply shower and toilet units or for those who need cooking facilities, the Junior Diner Unit. 

Bunkabin is able to deliver up to 20 units a day and can offer project management and installation services if required.


Consider new and used packing equipment

The difficult conditions in spring and summer mean widespread potato weight loss and stressing – yet prices remain static. 

Growers and packers need to consider all the options when it comes to replacing handling machinery according to Gary Palmer of Cambridgeshire-based David Harrison Handling Systems which deals in new, used and rebuilt systems.

He reports increased interest in the small Prinsen palletiser due in part to the decreasing availability of workers from Eastern Europe. “Realistically, a Prinsen palletiser can comfortably maintain 9.5 tons an hour, stacking up to 11 layers of 20kg bags,” he says, Prinsen also manufacture a system for handling and stitching hessian and net bags, with options of tape and label applicators, he adds. The manufacturers multihead weigher is available with 10 or 12 weighing scales. It uses speed adjustable belts instead of vibrator channels to feed the weighing scales. Belts are not susceptible to dirt build ups and work well with non-washed potatoes. 

“These are our most intelligent systems yet and yet are simplest to set up,” says Gary. “It’s all about speed and accuracy. The high speed, electronic weigher prepares the pre-set weight in its stainless steel weighing buckets and discharges it on the command of the bagging machine. The weighing process is continuous with constant weight checks.

Harrisons is also UK distributor for vegetable bagging and handling equipment from the Essex-based Sack Filling Company. The company’s latest range includes bagging and weighing machines (10-25kg), a pre-pack unit, sealing systems with medium/heavy duty stitchers and a range of options including sack presenters and placers, powered in-feed belt and conveyors. 

David Harrison also offers a large range of used and refurbished pack house machinery. “Not only do refurbished lines represent good value, but with a reduced choice of UK manufacturers, delivery times on new kit have dramatically increased so a rebuilt system can save time as well,” says Gary.


Scottish manufacturer moves into East Anglia

Scottish machinery manufacturer ScanStone has opened a new depot in Lakenheath, Suffolk. 

The 12,500ft2 premises will offer customers a service centre and parts department as well as a service and workshop area and dry machine storage.

“We believe that Lakenheath is in a key area for the potato growing operation in East Anglia and the depot is strategically placed so that it will service the rest of southern England and also northern France where our market penetration is growing exponentially,” says ScanStone’s William Skea.

Area and depot manager Ashley Sismey deals with day to day enquiries for ScanStone as well as active parts and machinery sales. He carries out demonstrations of products across the entire ScanStone range.

“We have already started stocking Lakenheath with spare parts and webs for the 2018/19 season to give all our valued customers in East Anglia the best possible service and parts back-up,” he says.


Time to overhaul potato machinery

Upgrading or investing in new potato machinery won’t be on the cards for all growers this year but a complete overhaul to existing kit may be an option.

Agricultural engineering firm Steve Thorley has invested in a generator, compressor and shot blasting set up to offer growers this new service.

“It’s an idea we’ve had in the back of our minds for a few years, but now, the timing seemed ideal. The new kit allows us to fully strip down a machine, shot blast, spray paint and reassemble with a full service, fresh oil and filters,” says Steve Thorley.

There are many benefits to this complete overhaul, he says. “With stripping the machine down totally, we get so see every panel, every bearing and every seal. This thorough investigation leads to a comprehensive service.

“With a freshly painted machine arriving back on farm, a grower can be proud of the equipment and assured the machine can keep on working for several more seasons to come.”

Alongside activities of sales and service of in-field and in-store potato equipment, Steve Thorley offers a variety of engineering services including welding, fabrication, machining, spray painting and now shot blasting.


The automation professionals

Cambridgeshire agricultural machinery automation company Agrimech is a one-stop destination for people seeking the most expertly designed and maintained equipment, claims the business.

Company founders Darren and Belinda Smith have a wealth of trade experience which they employ to ensure customers get the equipment most suited to their professional needs – backed up by the highest quality support.

Products such as its six-axis Robot Palletising solution which uses a Gripper Head that can handle anything from 5–50kg, reducing damage and achieving accurate stackings patterns.

The full range of its capabilities was demonstrated when Boston company Mason Bros Cold Storage & Grading Services used it for its range of products, across all weights in both paper and plastic packaging. 

It was a big challenge, but one which Agrimech passed with flying colours – and it was the professional service as much as the technology that impressed the company’s Simon Mason, he says.

“I found Darren to be extremely knowledgeable in his line of business.

“The whole team was always very professional, and nothing ever seemed to be an issue. When you are investing in new technology you want to feel comfortable and reassured every step of the way. This is where Agrimech excelled with its communications.”


Herbicide attracts attention

The performance of a herbicide featuring a new mode of action aroused more interest among potato growers than that of existing products or combinations of products at a the recent AHDB SPot Farm East field walk at Elveden Estate.

As part of a series of trials AHDB is running on the estate, the herbicide trial considered the weed spectrum and crop safety considerations of a range of widely used products including SP01644, a new product from Bayer, containing the active ingredient, aclonifen.

Although new to the UK, there is wide experience of efficacy of the product from many years of commercial use on the continent, but it has previously not been possible to obtain regulatory approval in the UK. Bayer hopes to change that in time for next season and has trialled the pre-emergence herbicide, which works as a bleaching agent with reported strong activity against small nettle, brassica weeds and chenopodium species, across a range of sites and soil types in England and Scotland. Bayer claims aclonifen contributes to the control of mayweed, grass weeds (from seed) and polygonum species. 

Overseeing the herbicide trial at Elveden is agronomist Graham Tomalin of VCS Potatoes. He described aclonifen as “offering a useful weed spectrum that is in line with the manufacturer’s claims and has demonstrated good crop safety across a range of varieties”.

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
  • Posted:
Prev Story:Fruit Focus July 2018Next Story:Spring Spraying February 2019