Thinking Inside the Box

Maximizing potato storage success through box storage

Published online: Jun 26, 2017 Articles, Potato Storage
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This article appears in the July 2017 issue of Potato Grower.


With today’s increasingly competitive international marketplace, potato growers and processors are continuously looking at more efficient and progressive produce handling processes that increase crop yield and value. Supplying high-quality potatoes that have been harvested and handled gently, are of a consistent size and form, and offer a good shelf-life requires significant care and attention throughout the potato handling process.

In the fresh produce industry, the amount and quality of supply dictate prices; therefore, effective potato storage practices are vital to maximize returns on crop yield in line with demand.

There has been much talk recently about the benefits of storing potatoes in boxes as an alternative to bulk storage. Tong Engineering, a UK-based potato and vegetable handling equipment manufacturer that produces a range of box handling equipment, has received interest from growers as to the merits of box storage and the gentle box handling equipment that makes the whole process more efficient.

The company is now working with several U.S. growers to integrate specialized box handling equipment within their current potato handling operations to bring added value and better stock control for growers willing to embrace the benefits and shift their current storage practices.

“In the U.S., box storage is a much less common storage technique than bulk crop storage,” says Charlie Rich, export sales manager for Tong. “This is quite the opposite of the way crop is more commonly stored in the UK and Europe, and there are some very strong reasons why box storage not only makes potato storage more efficient, but also helps to add value to the stored crop.”

Following are several key benefits box storage offers.

 

Control temperature, humidity

One important difference in box storage versue bulk storage is the noticeable increase in control that storing in boxes allows. One very important element of control lies in the ability to maintain the correct climate conditions.

“When crop is stored in boxes, airflow between the boxes is achieved very easily and effectively, allowing growers to have much better control of crop temperature and humidity,” says Rich.

 

Increase storage life

With increased control of storage variables, box storage ensures post-harvest crop condition is maintained and pressure damage and bruising is eliminated, significantly prolonging the potato storage period.

“When storing in 2,200-pound boxes, growers can store potatoes for three to four months longer,” says Rich.

 

Minimize contamination

Another noticeable benefit of box storage is that it significantly reduces the chances of crop contamination by allowing any box of potatoes to be removed from storage at any given time, should the need arise.

“When potatoes are stored in bulk, should any of the crop deteriorate due to disease or rot, it can be very difficult to determine the problem in the first place,” says Rich. “More importantly, [it’s difficult to] remove the affected crop without too much contamination of other potatoes in the store. In contrast, when crop is stored in boxes, any affected crop can be removed one box at a time, meaning contamination is much less likely and much less widespread.”

 

Manage stored crop effectively

When storing crop in boxes, it is much easier and more efficient to store crop by variety and/or size. This dramatically improves stock control capabilities while offering the ability to respond much more quickly to customer demand.

“Stock control is so much more efficient when crop is stored in boxes,” says Rich. “If harvested crop can be loaded straight into an even-flow hopper and grading system coupled with gentle box-filling equipment, graded crop can be loaded straight into boxes ready for dispatch or onward processing as demand arises. Boxes can be clearly marked and stored based on their content, whether by grade, variety or both, allowing growers to have a much better and more specific record of stock for improved batch control.”

 

Maximize storage space

A more practical benefit of box storage is the ability to better utilize storage space.

“Storage height is maximized when storing in boxes, as they can be stacked up to seven or eight boxes high,” says Rich. “This level of space utilization cannot be achieved when bulk storing, and the ability to essentially store more crop, alongside the potential to store crop for longer, can bring growers utilizing box storage methods very noticeable competitive advantages.”

 

Improve crop quality, value

Overall, box storage involves much gentler crop handling practices than those involved in bulk storage. By simply handling crop more gently, yield, quality and, ultimately, value of a crop is naturally improved. Advanced box handling equipment used alongside effective crop cleaning and grading systems ensures only high-value, high-quality, clean, sorted crop is stored.

When looking at these benefits of box storage, the usual question on most potato growers’ lips is “What equipment investments are needed for a successful and sustainable shift to the box storage technique?”

“The answer,” says Rich, “is looking first at equipment that will ensure you fill—and subsequently empty—the boxes gently. Then, as budget facilitates, growers can look toward more advanced and gentle potato handling systems including high-capacity even-flow hoppers, efficient dirt eliminating and separating equipment, and accurate sizing systems that offer more efficient grading of different potato varieties, maximizing the potential of box storage even further.”

Tong manufactures potato handling equipment from heavy-duty bulk infeed hoppers to gentle box tippers and large-scale potato washing and polishing lines. Rich says the company’s EasyFill box filler is a popular first step in shifting to the box storage method.

“One question I am often asked is whether the investment in boxes and box handling equipment is worthwhile for the benefits that box storage will bring,” says Rich. “My answer is always that by adopting this more advanced and forward-thinking technique for potato storage, the return on investment and efficiencies will be very clear from Day 1 and for many years to come.”