County AG Report - Evolution of the Potato Harvester

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 11:41 AM EDT
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Last week the County Ag Report took a look at how technology has changed the way farmer’s plant, grow and harvest their crops. In this week’s report, we look at how the potato harvester has evolved over several decades, becoming more efficient and significantly increasing the amount of potatoes farmers can harvest in a day.

“That was probably about ‘74.” says Judd Hemphill, Former Owner of Hemphill Farms

Forty-eight Years ago, Judd Hemphill, took over his father’s farm, and began a farming journey that ended thirty-seven years later with his retirement in 2011. Looking back, he recalls a time when farming was simpler and the harvesting equipment was quite primitive compared to today.

“When I was young, our first harvester was a one row barrel. You didn’t get a lot done in a day. Probably not as much as a picking crew. You put the barrels on the end of the field, and then when dad turned, I had a platform, I’d throw barrels on the platform, enough to do me down the field, barrels at the other end, put your empties on and dig back up.” says Hemphill.

Just as Hemphill took over the farm from his father when he retired, his son acquired the farm from him. Today, Greg Hemphill owns and runs the farm along with his four sons. Even though eldest son, Garrett, wasn’t around during the era of the barrel harvester, he too has witnessed the evolution of the harvester.

“You know, everyday there would be a breakdown. And it didn’t handle the capacity. You had to have three, four people work on it. And even then the loads were still quite dirty with stones and debris.” - Garrett Hemphill, Co-Owner, Hemphill Farms

Today’s harvesters have been designed to better handle the stone and debris. Ryan Pelkey, Manager of Spudnik’s Presque Isle store, says this makes all the difference.

“The rocks are so little compared to what it used to be. I mean people are dumping one dump truck a day, compared to they used to dump multiple, so it’s a huge difference in the house.” says Pelkey.

What changes have been made to today’s harvesters that results in cleaner loads at the potato house? Pelkey says it’s how the rocks and debris are separated with air.

“Our traditional harvester has a vine separator on it, so it just has a blower on it, so the AirSep technology it separates after the secondaries, it separates potatoes by letting the rocks drop and then blows the potatoes over into the rear cross.” says Pelkey

The evolution of the potato harvester has changed the way farmers harvest their potatoes today. Cleaner loads, less bruising and fewer workers are all the results of improvements made over several decades. And how has this changed the amount of potatoes a farmer can harvest in day?

“Two six row windrowers and a three-row harvester, depending on the conditions we can go from 70 to 90 acres a day.” says Pelkey

“We didn’t get a lot of acres a day. Now look at the equipment they have.” - Judd Hemphill

Bernie Lagasse, NEWSSOURCE 8