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US: New harvesters a big change for the potato industry

The potato harvest in Aroostook County is already a third of the way through it's season. Though the time of year when potatoes are ready to come up out of the ground hasn't changed over the past 50 years, the way they are harvested has come leaps and bounds.

It used to be hand picking and barrels were the only way to do it, but today you're lucky if you can find someone who still does it the old fashioned way. Today farmers have turned to more modern technology to harvest their potato crop. Self run harvesters require just a driver to operate them, as opposed to the older machines that need four workers on them at a time to remove rocks and weeds from the potatoes making their way to the truck.

On site farm manager for County Super Spuds, Darrell McCrum, is able to harvest his 7,500 acres of fields with the self run harvester in a third of the time it would have taken him before. "The traditional machines would typically harvest 25 to 30 acres a day. We can do upwards of 100 acres a day with this machine with less labor," says McCrum.

The way these self run harvesters work, is that they use a vacuum system to suck the potatoes up while they are on conveyer belts to separate them from the weeds and rock, that are then blown out the side and back out onto the ground. These air harvesters are also able to pick more rows of potatoes up at a time. Older mechanical harvesters typically harvest about four rows, where as these new modern designs are able to harvest 16 rows at a time.

According to McCrum, this years crop is turning out to be a good one so far. "This season over all has been a good season," says McCrum. "It's been dry through the summer, which tends to lean towards a smaller yield, but the quality this year is very good."

According to the Maine Potato Board, Potatoes are the number one agriculture product in the state of Maine with a $530 million economic impact.


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